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 20 2011: I feel that this conversation is beautiful and enlightening in many respects but I still feel a strong sense of vagueness about the answers. Rather, I feel like to pin down the whole issue further I'd like to tweak the question, if I may?

    In other words, in your opinion, what should the purpose of education not be?

    By this, I mean, what should the education not teach. Should it not teach morality? Should it not teach religion? Or perhaps, something I care about more deeply than the two previous questions, should it not teach how to pass exams designed by private for profit companies?

    This list is by no means exhaustive, but I just want to see if it is possible to list all the things one could trash from current education systems to just leave the essence of the teaching in the end.
    • Dec 23 2011: Maybe the thing that "education" should not do is teach!

      By way of example one of the ten principles that guide Essential Schools is student as worker, teacher as coach.

      For an extreme example visit www.sudval.org, a school without a curriculum. Of watch the video about Mummified Chickens, Mutant Frogs and rockets to the Moon at www.edvisionsschools.org.
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        Dec 28 2011: Hey Chuck Fellows
        SVS school (from video link) is terrific. Maybe in answering the theme question, you might say that the purpose of education is to build tribes of collaborative self-suffucient learners.

        I don't know how you would say it, but stating the purpose in validating way might be very helpful. I mean instead of saying what it's not.

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