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 15 2011: First, may I describe an education:

    An education requires:

    A learning environment conducive to disciplined studies
    An effective means of imparting knowledge of basic classroom subjects from writing skills through fields
    of science
    Receptive students
    Grade recognition for student performance measured by appropriately frequent and professionally composed and conducted exams

    Benefits include:

    Gaining an edge in seeking certain job and employment opportunities due to educational achievement
    Being potentially more capable of thinking and expressing yourself more intelligently than those with less knowledge and discipline
    Being more vested in leading a fuller life than someone less educated

    Meeting those conditions -- the purpose and result of being educated is to be a better citizen.
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      Dec 16 2011: Hi Dan,

      Thanks for joining the conversation. Are the conditions the only way education can result in becoming a better citizen? What are your qualifications for being a "good citizen?"

      • Dec 17 2011: Hi Adam,

        The conditions are not absolute, but there is value in confining and defining education funded by the government. Is not the basic value of an education to develop a student's knowledge about the real world and improve his or her communication skills? To me, it is. These things are measurable, and the USA lags in world ranking and we should be close to the top. I say the purpose of education is to be a better citizen because I don't take my freedom and liberties for granted. I think an educated citizenry provide the best defense against governmental tyranny. The purpose of an education should be to produce a good citizen, but plenty will go astray. The base level of a good citizen is anyone who abides by the law and lives by the golden rule. I didn't mean to imply that an uneducated person cannot be a good citizen.
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          Dec 21 2011: Hi Dan,

          Thanks for the elaboration and further context of what is informing your thinking.

          You say, "an educated citizenry provide the best defense against governmental tyranny," and then go on to say "The base level of a good citizen is anyone who abides by the law..." What happens when the law is used to protect tyranny? What does a good citizen look like then?

      • Dec 21 2011: Hi Adam - to your followup comment,

        Admittedly, this stuff can get a little messy, but here goes:

        Law breakers create their own tyranny in the form of anarchy. I've heard a quote, "We have the kind of government we deserve." That may not be it exactly, but imparts an insight that registers with me. It is why a more informed and better educated electorate is less likely to support and may well oppose laws or practices that are too self serving for those that rule and thereby tyrannical. Laws and practices are subject to debate and change in democracies. There is a process for citizens to contain government. We are a secular government with free speech, elections, ballot measures, provisions for demonstrations, protests, petitions, an entire bill or rights, etc. It's not perfect, but the system was designed to be accountable to the diverse citizens it serves. This may or may not apply to other countries. Obviously, even democratic regimes are not immune from tyranny some are theocracies.
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        Dec 21 2011: I think the most important qualification of citizenship is contribution. We need to have a goal to contribute something useful. Obviously, "useful" can be defined in many ways.
      • Dec 23 2011: Hi Adam - is it okay if I expand/alter my answer to your question?

        Originally my answer was: .. a better citizen, by interpreting "...purpose of eduction," to mean the result of someone educated to "...purpose of education" in a more ongoing active sense to be:

        The purpose of education is a matter of introducing a student to established and recognized academic facts and discovery. Ideally done by a professional educator in an objective classroom manner which includes testing and grading the student on his or her comprehension of the material covered. The basic intent of the classroom process is to improve the students IQ on the subject taught. Importantly, the learning system and methods are not handicapped by defenseless teaching protections, benefits, etc., or limited or influence by conflicting personal and/or governmental beliefs with the corresponding restrictions on such subjects as biology, etc. Acquired knowledge via the educational curricula on real world studies and the development of disciplined thought and communication skills is what determines intelligence for many of us enlarging our world and should be the central goal and consequently the purpose of education.
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      Dec 17 2011: Hi Dan, Hi contributors,
      It’s almost impossible to disagree with you on the tools but one of the objectives is more questionable: making employable citizens.
      It’s true that most kids will become employees but it should be presented to children as only one of the options. We should value entrepreneurships as much, I believe. Risk taking; dream pursuit should be encourage in a rational way.
      Some kids may be creating thousands of jobs and improving living conditions if we let them envisage themselves as entrepreneurs. What do you think?
      • Dan F 50+

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        Dec 17 2011: Hi Louis,

        Point taken. I didn't mean to exempt the opportunity of becoming an entrepreneur, or the pursuit of other self reliant challenges in life. In fact to be a successful entrepreneur may be the ultimate reward of an education. I started a company my daughter has taken over.

        Education likely causes most of us to be a bit more conservative. We are more apt to consider risks more carefully and accurately before entering a business venture. That has a value too. There is a cost for failure. I definately agree individual encouragement is important to help students excel in life and a reason why teachers, professors, mentors and parents are so important in education.

        But, my main point is the USA is better served by a more informed and intelligent electorate and is just as true for citizens of other countries as well.
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        Dec 21 2011: One-size-fits-all education has found its limits I believe. Traditional education only seems to serve educators and administrators.
        There should be a way for some kids to get to work doing whatever they want to do as soon as possible.
        We should all be educated on a basic level in how to manage our money, how to take care of our bodies, how to survive if we are lost in the woods, how governments operate, and how to successfully pursue the learning experience and occupation we desire.

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