The Single Purpose of All Education

Something we read in my English 101 class on Tuesday brought up the question of why we go to school.  You would think that after these poor kids had been through 12 or 13 years of it already, someone would have explained it, but no.  Actually, you’d really wonder why students themselves had never demanded an explanation, but apparently not.

School is not for giving you vocational skills or to develop character or to keep you out of trouble.  We all go to school for one reason.  Think about it: all the major aspects of each discipline do the same thing; they have one general goal in common.

English: outlining writing; defending a thesis with evidence in an organized composition; grammar and diagramming sentences

Math: applying formulas; solving equations

Science: using the scientific method

History: creating timelines; finding causes, effects, and connections between events

Art: using perspective, proportions, and other techniques

See the pattern? 

The single overall purpose of every class is to train your mind to think logically.  By “education,” we ultimately mean the development of habits of orderly reasoning.  As I read in Why Don’t Students Like School?, discovery is fun but thinking–sustained focus–is hard.  Nobody is born liking it, and we have to work at being good at it.  Notice also that the thought process involved in each of these activities is meant to automatically transfer to natural, normal activities throughout our lives.

But when will I ever diagram sentences in the real world? you ask.  The answer (and here is where we as educators tend to be remiss, falling back on the very poor excuse that school will “help you get a good job” rather than promote education as a good thing in and of itself) is simply this: you won’t.  Of course you won’t. 

But think of it this way: in a thousand years, you will never do anything in “real life” even remotely like a push up or bench press.  So why do we exercise?  Because those exercises develop the muscles that we do use in real life.  Ditto for school.  It’s merely an efficient means of training a muscle–in this case, the mind–to be ready for a variety of situations outside of the gym, er, school.  Sorry, I got confused with my analogy there for a moment.

7 comments on “The Single Purpose of All Education

  1. I had a great teacher once tell us that “my goal is not to teach you names, dates and formulas; though they are important; my goal is to get you interested in learning; this will serve you through out your life”.
    I remember that teacher well, she made quite an impact on all of us.

  2. Allan and Andrea, thanks! Glad you liked the thought. When students ask me about issues or philosophies, I tell them, “My job is to teach you how to think, not what to think.”

  3. Great post! You are so right. Diagramming sentences teaches students analytical thinking. It shows students how to tackle a sentence – and consequently, how to tackle other areas of life.

    I’ve made it my mission to spread sentence diagramming (and THOUGHT) through my website, English Grammar Revolution. It’s good to have allies out there!

    :) Elizabeth

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