Education is the framework that shapes and molds children and adults in most communities around the world. For most Americans, education is thought to be essential in carrying out a life of worth. The word education is coupled with many ideas such as testing, values, and society. American education can be defined as scholarly institutions built within districts, which impart knowledge and instruction through means of a structured class. Upon contemplation, I came to question: what exactly is the purpose of education? The purpose of education is enlightenment; education develops minds and communities.
Altogether higher education institutions, equally public and private, nonprofit and for-profit, and from state colleges to community colleges to research universities to a wide variety of technical and professional schools, have purposefulness (Shapiro, 2005). I ask myself the following question: what is the purpose of the educational system? In order to tackle this question, firstly, it is important to understand the beginnings of education. The most traditional interpretation of the framework of education is from the Enlightenment, which is during the time when schools first opened in America. The Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries left us with a belief in the value of learning. It sought to liberate the human mind from dogmas and encourage skepticism, tolerance, and critical thinking (Chomsky, 2012). The Enlightenment was a philosophical movement that pursued understanding of the universe, humanity, and freedom. Enlightenment thinkers made tremendous intellectual and scientific progress in their time. Do the same fundamentals such as the ambition to create, understand the past, and search for understanding in a person’s own way remain relevant within our structure of education today? The Enlightenment rejected the blinkers that limit exploration and human development. How have these ideas behind education shifted since the Enlightenment within America?
The U.S. Department of Education builds the framework for education today in America. The mission of the Department of Education “is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access” (Department of Education, 2017). There have been measures instilled into the educational system that have created more control and indoctrination. The United States has increased the cost of attending college and has made it less accessible, unless the students are willing to take on debt. Upon graduation, many students work minimum wage jobs in an effort to pay off their debt, which proposes an unrealistic solution to their problem. Whistle (2019), a writer for Forbes, found that the average student debt upon graduating college in 2018 was $33,000. Education is no longer affordable or thought of as a process of development and discovery, as it was in the Enlightenment, but rather education is reduced to being an investment in which graduates depend on in hopes that they receive a return on their investment in the future. Has our modern American education lost the ideals of innovation to investment?
Regarding education as a means to an end to increase the GDP seems to be the antithesis of what the Enlightenment was about. Education is meant to create better human beings (Chomsky, 2012). The purpose of education is to seek creativity, explore, cross frontiers, challenge accepted beliefs, and seek independence of thought (Chomsky, 2012). It is a gross distortion to view human as capital rather than free, creative, independent individuals. It is thought that a person born in America is not born in chains, rather they are born in the land of the free and it is evermore present that an almost necessary requirement into becoming a free, fully expressed citizen today is a university education (Shapiro, 2005). One of the purposes of higher education is to supply commodities and skills on which the society is highly dependent, such as advanced training (Shapiro, 2005). It is the idea that education will provide Americans a chance to fulfill their ambitions through a range of paths and at a number of diverse phases in their life (Shapiro, 2005). Educational institutions mold graduates into fine-tuned agents, and in most cases becoming specialized means also navigating social mores.
Does discipline, culture, and morality come from the home or from education? The minds, bodies, and morals of elders raise people. Without question, it has been engrained within parents to children to adhere to tradition and send their child to some form of higher education after completing high school. Hsun Tzu (250) thought that only rigorous training and devoted study could produce virtue, implying that education shapes and molds the person. Where does learning begin and where does it end (Tzu, 250)? Hsun Tzu (250) believed that culture, discipline, and morality all come from learning and learning is best sought in education. Morality and discipline are closely intertwined with education and the home, education is thought to be a link that connects society. School climate, the quality and character of school life, reflects societal forces such as climate change strikes, the me-too movement, and domestic terrorism in concurrence with the greater society.
Education requires a closeness and responsiveness to society. A crisis in education is usually caused by a crisis in society that calls into question many existing ideas regarding knowledge, culture, and society. Public policies and priorities have an impact on universities and their students. The educational setting has a capacity for leadership and the nature of the institution is to create meaningful change. Higher educational institutions such as universities must continue to provide programs that the society has identified as important and as hard as it may be these institutions also need to address questions and issues that society does not want to address and to be agents of positive change for the community and country. Higher education depends on talent and ideas from the administration and officials to guarantee that the students are receiving an education that respects the climate of American society. If education is a link to our society then how are standardized tests and authentication of whether or not the person testing is worthy of being a part of our society?
Tests can be useful devices if they contribute to constructive purposes, but they are ancillary and markers that help a student improve and conveys where they need to be moving. A person can pass tests and still understand very little (Chomsky, 2012). Passing tests do not compare with searching, inquiring, and pursing topics out of the sake of interest (Chomsky, 2012). The U.S. Department of Education (2017) states that the tests cover the full range of the relevant state standards, provides an accurate measure of student growth and achievement, and that testing should be a part of good instruction.
The question of what the purpose of education is receives a dynamic and multidimensional approach in answering. It is education’s purpose to mold the younger generation in the image of its elders (Shapiro, 2005). However, it is also education’s commitment to go beyond that and recognize the needs within society and to address those needs within the educational institution. It is important that education grow along with society. Humans have such a unique possibility to learn and allows for peaceful interactions throughout many cultures (Shapiro, 2005). It is the educational system’s responsibility to understand the influence and power they have on our society as a whole. There should be an increasing demand for a more critical look at the morals and values over the role of the individual. The purpose of education is to become the idealized image of a citizenin America and to live out one’s aspirations. I hope that the institution that I am in does indeed become that marker for me in my life.
Chomsky, N. (2012, February 1). The Purpose of Education. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DdNAUJWJN08
Department of Education. (2017, May 25). Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/overview/mission/mission.html?src=rt
Shapiro, H. T. (2005). A larger sense of purpose: higher education and society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Tzu, H. (250 BCE). Encouraging Learning. Austin, M. (2019). Reading the World: Ideas that Matter. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Whistle, W. (2019, October 4). A Look at Millennial Student Debt. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/wesleywhistle/2019/10/03/a-look-at-millennial-student-debt/#27b2c5ab2437
Hillary Kuhlemeier is a college graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has taken her experiences with education and has applied them to the political and socioeconomic climate that exists within America today. She hopes to be successful within her educational aspirations during her second time around in nursing school.