Reflection on Education

I’ve been thinking about education over the last few days. Here in Carlisle, there is a pretty important school board election that will determine the direction of where the district goes going forward. Will we continue on the same path, which has produced a pretty good school district and school system (all you have to do is check the rankings – Here’s a resource that offers the rankings.)? Or will we decide to change paths where our main concern becomes whatever the current culture war issue happens to be? That’s not an exaggeration – that what the two opposing teams of candidates are offering. Each of these teams won a primary and will face each other in the fall where voters will decide which direction to go.

And so, I’ve been thinking about what education is all about. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Some claim that education is about getting a job. Getting a job is part of education, but it is not the primary reason for education, nor should it ever be the primary reason. Even if a person doesn’t need to work, education will serve them well in life, because education is more than just getting a job.

If all education is about is checking off requirements and then getting a job, then we are looking at education as a transaction – I do this, and in return I get this. Frankly, that would be a waste, a missed opportunity for education to be more fully what it has always been about.

Education is about the betterment of a person. It’s about forming a person into a responsible citizen where they live their life. Education is about growth of a person. It’s about raising questions and doing critical thinking. It’s about becoming more fully who you were made to be and who you are called to be. Education is about bettering life.

Education is not about memorizing facts and figures – that’s just memorization. Education isn’t about being able to recite something word for word. Education isn’t about data, facts, figures, information. All of that doesn’t require education. Those can be tools to assist in the educational process of course. But really, education is about teaching people how to use all of that. In a sense, education is about growing wisdom and thinking and discernment. In sum, education is about being human.

When all we see education being about is getting a job, then students are likely to think that they can stop learning when they graduate. They’ve completed the task. The checkmarks are done. But learning never ends. We continue to learn even if we aren’t consciously aware of it. When we treat education as a transaction, students are less likely to pick up a book and read after they graduate. They are less likely to take a class to learn something to better themselves or just because they are curious about something. They are less likely to travel or talk with people who are not like themselves or the culture they are familiar with. They are less likely to be open to correction and grow from new information that is presented to them.

The second part of education is just as important – it is the communal aspect of education. I hear one group running for school board talk about parental rights. Yet I wonder what they mean by that. I’m a parent of four children – One of which graduated, one is about to, and two will continue in their formal education in the school district. By definition I have parental rights. But I don’t share the same idea of what parental rights is all about with the people running for school board who are using this line.

My parental rights are not about banning books and preventing my kids from learning about or hearing about things that I don’t agree with. And it certainly isn’t about imposing this on other families. My parental rights are not about building a wall around my children, so they don’t know how to deal with the world or interact with people who are different from them. That’s not rights. Rights come with responsibilities. And as a parent I have a responsibility to make sure my children can function in the world, can work with people who are different from themselves, can think critically, can see that their ways are not the only ways of doing things. Banning books and “protecting” children from other ideas I don’t like is really just saying that I don’t know how to defend my own ideas, I can’t think critically about opposing ideas, and that my own ideas can’t withstand any critique or opposing ways of things about things. This isn’t what freedom is about. Banning books and “protecting” children from different ideas and cultures and history is really just the “freedom” to impose a belief system on your own children and on the children of others. And in my case, I don’t appreciate this imposition and I will push back against it.

I want my children to learn history – there are good and bad things that have happened to people. It’s not all roses and unicorns and the myths of greatness. There’s oppression, violence, tyranny, and destruction too. I want my children to know about these things so they can recognize them, they can think critically about them, and they know how to oppose them and work for justice, freedom, and wholeness.

I want my children to learn that there are people who are unique and different in so many ways. I want them to see and know who these people are. I want them to learn to see the value and worth that exists in each person just because they are a person. I want them to know how to interact with people, to listen, and to learn from others.

I want my children to read conflicting ideas that are challenging. I want them to struggle with what authors are writing – to hear the arguments, to raise questions, to think about what is being argued, and to formulate their own ideas in response.

In short, I want my children to grow into adults. Parental rights don’t require school boards determining for me what my kids should not be allowed to learn about. Parental rights is about my role as my kids’ parent, how I stay involved in their lives and education, how I challenge them and push them to be who they are called to be, how I encourage them and let them know that they are not alone in this journey of life, and how I help them to grow in the capacity to think critically for themselves. It’s not about making a clone of me. It’s about helping them be themselves as much as possible knowing all along that I love them regardless of whether I agree with them or not, regardless of what they do or become. That’s parental rights.

Which leads to the other point about the communal aspect of education. Education isn’t just an individual endeavor. It benefits the community. Why else would states be so concerned with the “brain drain” that happens. An educated citizenry benefits the community and society. An educated citizenry improves the lives of all. An educated citizenry means a citizenry that has the capacity to think critically, is more empathetic, more inquisitive, more open to ideas. That sounds like a citizenry that is freer. Free to pursue a thriving life for oneself and for the community as a whole. Freedom isn’t about being free to impose one’s beliefs on others because you think you know what’s best for everyone. That’s the definition of tyranny and authoritarianism. And it is to be rejected whenever and wherever we encounter it. That’s what I learned in my education.

Education is more than a transaction and it’s more than being about controlling people – it is about life, living, and being fully human.


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