TED Conversations

Adam Burk

Founder/ Director, Treehouse Institute


This conversation is closed.

In your opinion, what should the purpose of education be?

Education is a prominent cultural institution used to perpetuate the prevailing values of a society.

Our modern education system has a sordid past largely rooted in industrialism. It's aim is to produce economically viable products--employable citizens. Nearly all our tweaks to the system in the last 100+ years are simply attempts to ensure that the products (graduates) are prepared for the work force.

I want to hear from YOU as I believe this conversation is crucial to lay a foundation to create significant and meaningful change.

Here is my answer:

I believe that education should be an empowering process that allows and guides children to develop their passions, critical thinking, compassion, and orientation towards wisdom for timely action.

In other words, self-cultivation should be the purpose of education. Understanding self-cultivation in terms of being a part of a unified field of relationships is key to the growth of a mature culture of peace. When the natural web of our relationships is used to strengthen our depth of knowledge, the feedback from the environment supports timely adjustments and refinements in our emotional and technical developments.

For this conversation, please focus on the question "in your opinion, what should the purpose of education be?"

We'll talk about the "how" in another conversation.


Closing Statement from Adam Burk

Thank you all for joining this conversation. There are beautiful aspirations here of bringing for the best of humanity through the development of individuals, married with tensions to ensure that society is served and supported and that the basics are not overlooked.

There are currently 365 comments and 365 distinct articulations of "what the purpose of education should be." The process to develop a consensus on this is beyond the scope and purpose of this conversation. However, I do hope that it is understood that this question and its answer are the shapers of education systems and in turn cultures.

And so I invite you to ponder the question Thomas Brucia raised earlier, "Who should decide what the purpose of education is? http://www.ted.com/conversations/8190/who_should_decide_what_the_pur.html

Once we decide who should be making that decision then we can return to my original question and ultimately re-inventing education.

Thank you all again for sharing of your selves.

In peace,

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  • Dec 12 2011: An education system must enable an individual to discover, develop and deploy their ability to create a better future for themselves, their loved ones and their community.

    The key point is to enable individuals to use their creative ability (in whatever shape it manifests itself) to create a better world. Taking that as a starting point, it rapidly becomes clear that one of the key things education should do is to enable people to discuss 'what is a better world' and 'how should we build this better world'. Developing people's ability to communicate and collaborate should lie at the heart of any 21st Century education system.

    However, it is NOT enough to merely stimulate critical thinking. One of the great challenges we face with the current education system is its fundamental failure to develop ethical reasoning and empathy. The linear, reductionist approach taking to education means that today most young people, myself included, are in the strange position of knowing everything but understanding very little!

    To conclude, I suggest education must (like all things!) return to its past to re-create itself in the future. We must return to the idea of a 'whole education', body, mind and heart. In a rapidly changing world, knowledge is quickly gained but also quickly becomes redundant. Surely wisdom (good judgement), a strong ethical capacity and good health in body and mind are at least as important as Pythagoras' theorem?....

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