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 28 2011: Well I believe education should be focused on bettering ourselves and our own interests. We should have more classes that focus on asking "What would you like to learn today?" rather than saying "Here is what we are learning today." As Ken Robinson said in his speech, our education system teaches us subjects like Mathematics, Science, etc because it assumes these are general necessities for everyday life but this is not necessarily the case. If an artist wants to learn about art, he/she should be able to learn art and if a dancer wants to learn more about dance, he/she should be able to learn dance. People don't really get the opportunity to learn what they REALLY want until maybe college -- in both middle school and high school you have requisite classes you MUST complete and high school has become more of a pass by in our lives that serves as, rather than an educational experience, our transcript for getting into a college we want -- and even college has its limitations with class sizes being too full, pre-requisite classes to take a certain class, etc.

    The main problem with this form of learning is that it is heavily dependent on the student. In our current education system, we simply feed people knowledge that society has deemed "important" or "necessary." In this idealistic world, the student will have to know what he/she wants to learn and in a lot of cases, people don't know what they want to learn or what they want to do. It requires a lot of self-motivation and self-discovery because people can and should be able to always change what they want to learn, what they want to be, etc. Of course, this skepticism should be saved for the "how" conversation you mentioned.
    • Dec 28 2011: From experience with many children, the kids are not as open minded as you'd think. They do need big pushes to do new things especially if they have problems with trust. once they see something in action a few times they will start to ask questions and interact. I think a better question would be "What would you like to learn more of?" I do like the idea you have. I agree about asking them. I, myself, wasn't interested ,and didn't strive until college when I got the option of what I was learning.

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