What is Education For?

What is education for? Why do we educate? What are students really learning in our classrooms? Are we over-schooled but under-educated?

“Today’s children starting kindergarden this year will graduate in the 3rd decade of the 21st century, a world that will have challenges and opportunities beyond what we can predict, with new possibilities and problems that will demand creativity, ingenuity, responsibility, and compassion. Whether our children will merely survive or positively thrive in the decades to come depends in large measure on the experiences that they have in school” (OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture & Bruce Mau Design, 2010). How might we join school learning to living well and well-being? As the WALL-E Captain famously says: “I don’t want to survive, I want to live!”

What do we want our students to know, do, and be? What is best for our children to learn for the future, and how can they best learn it? How do we educate future innovators (beyond mere conformists or consumers) who are confidently prepared for the opportunities, responsibilities, and experiences of life? How might we encourage “goodness” as part and parcel of school “effectiveness”?

There are no shortage of questions about “21st Century Learning” in a world of increasing instability, uncertainty, inequality, and unsustainability. Statistics estimate that we will reach 7.5-10.5 billion people in 2050 unless a major catastrophe happens. 2.8 billion people in our world live on less than $2 per day. 1.3 billion live on less than $1 per day. 1.5 billion people will never get a clean glass of water today, tomorrow, or any day in their lives. 115 million primary school aged children don’t go to school. And how many millions will go to bed sick and hungry tonight?

The Dalai Lama’s Facebook status on Monday, March 7 is worthy of contemplating:

Whatever the intellectual quality of the education given our children, it is vital that it include elements of love and compassion, for nothing guarantees that knowledge alone will be truly useful to human beings. Among the major troublemakers society has known, many were well-educated and had great knowledge, but they lacked a moral education in qualities such as compassion, wisdom, and clarity of vision.

What is most important for students to know? How do we educate confident, happy, citizens who are committed to sustainability, social justice, and civic responsibility; who are technology-savvy; who have strong morals, cross cultural awareness, and respect for diverse others? How do we teach and learn about managing and ensuring a sustainable world? How do we minimize our reckless abuse of one another and nature? How might education be more relational, compassionate, and caring, such that we might learn how to love ourselves, each other, and the planet Earth playground that we share?

OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching and learning. New York: Abrams Books.

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