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 27 2011: Great conversation and I am very happy for the opportunity to read though all the ideas here.

    I certainly agree that our modern education system derived from perpetuating the values of industrialism; the problem is that while basic literacy prepares workers for a position within the industry it does not concern itself with the special abilities that exist in each child allowing them to develop and contribute to society as is best for them.

    Although education and literacy are distinct, the emphasis must always be on education. The elements of literacy should be integrated throughout the day in a social manner through music, theatre, games and in the form of group discussions where the educators’ job is to assist students in transitioning from topic to topic and students learn how the various disciplines are tied into the whole picture of reality.

    The purpose of education should be to prepare children for life, nourishing the potential in every child so that each may connect and contribute his/her unique ideas and abilities to society.
    • E Pines

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      Dec 27 2011: Excellent points! We spend years teaching the math skills that could be taught as a model of approach in a few days as these will essentially done by computer and calculator anyway. In the meantime, the thinking/cooperative skills -- total integration -- necessary for true success in the new global world that has come upon us, are left to float.

      The industrial age has been passing to the information age, and now to the global/integral age.

      In the 13th century Leonardo of Pisa, "Fibonacci," widely introduced Italy and Europe to the Hindu-Arabic numeral system and its wonderful arithmetic. It freed them of the hopeless entanglement and debilitation of commerce and engineering under Roman numerals and abacus.

      Who shall come forth for 21st century children so that they may have the tools to untangle the global systemic mess. That they may work as a single vast strategist and tactician with billions of eyes, where all individuals use their unique talents, creativity, and problem solving skills in mutual concern and guarantee that links into a whole truly greater than the sum of the parts. Who will teach them to map and implement the interactive/interdependent strategies of Nature, on the human level, to achieve a world never before known. Who will bring our children to adapt, evolve, survive and thrive -- to start that great new chapter of human history, to fly forth as the butterfly from the overspent, rapidly decaying cocoon?
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        Dec 28 2011: Who is a good question—we must first of all recognize who or what constitutes education. About the age of seven, a child becomes acutely susceptible to suggestion of the values and ideas implicit in society; therefore, we must rethink our programs and systems of education (including the media) in order to provide an appropriate quality education that will enable all children to fulfill their potential and contribute to building a sustainable and just global society.

        “Education must simultaneously provide maps of a complex world in constant turmoil and the compass that will enable people to find their way in it.” (Delors Report, Learning: the Treasure Within)
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      Dec 28 2011: Nourishing the potential, C. Medansky, is a most excellent purpose.

      I wonder whether you would accept that potential as the potential to love, potential to empathize, potential to play, create, to be happy, to spread happiness, to be sensitive to the needs of our planet. I'm speaking about things that occur to me as usually not associated with head thinking or knowledge learning per se, but rather strength of spirit and heart. Even when we include health and safety (and physical agility, strength and endurance) still--emotional power and well-being often seem at the end of the list so to speak.
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        Dec 28 2011: Thanks Mark! In answer to your question: YES, I positively accept that potential as the potential to love, potential to empathize, potential to play, create, to be happy, to spread happiness, to be sensitive to the needs of our planet, and agree with Jeremy Rifkin (The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis) that distributed and collaborative learning experiences that foster critical thinking skills and greater empathic engagement go hand-in-hand with curricula emphasizing the interconnectedness of life and geochemical processes, preparing our children to think and act as part of a global family in a shared biosphere.

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