I grew up in a house of academics – both my parents were university professors with varying degrees of contributions as public intellectuals in their respective fields. In my upbringing, education wasn’t something you went to school and “did” for a couple of hours a day – it was and is a part of my identity, it shapes the way I think and feel and believe; education is a vocation.
Growing up in such an environment, the way I perceive education tends to differ from popular notions and messages of what education is, does, or should do for the individual. In the first place, what do we think when we hear, “education?” Many of us envision the process of schooling where we acquire knowledge in the classroom where our ability to retain, reproduce, and sometimes reframe that knowledge is tested. And as we pursue higher levels of the education process, we move up a structural hierarchy where the knowledge acquisition process is more complex, and there is an expectation that beyond reproducing knowledge, we will adopt critical thinking of any acquired knowledge.
This process, filled with instruction, and instructors, tests, and schedules, and deadlines, in a sense prepares us for organizing beyond the education institutions and systems. We have schedules and deadlines once we begin our lives in the so-called “real world.” We also have bosses who will have expectations and projects that will entail instructions and deadlines that we are required to meet. In this way, education institutions do prepare us for work. And because of this, many deem that the sole intrinsic value of education is to prepare the individual to be a productive member of society in the workplace.
Yet I find this positioning of education as solely a preparatory period for a working life inadequate. Education should teach us more than the rules and regulations of becoming a productive worker. Education should teach us how to engage in critical thinking and discourse of who we are as individuals and in relation to the community – the local one we find ourselves in, and the world at large. Education should provide us with the framework for how we choose to participate in society beyond the function of being a worker. This participation should extend to how we arrive at our political and religious constructs, how we choose to consume products and services, and how we choose to interact on a daily basis with the world around us.
It is true that Western hegemony has essentially framed the education process, and as a result, it has become an extension of capitalism. And as an extension of capitalism, the process has become a means to a real outcome. In the liberal arts, we are taught that something is real if it is real in its consequences. And the consequences of education can be a job in our chosen field, a promotion, a title, etc. These are all good things and we should be allowed to want them. But if our education endeavors are only for these sole palpable purposes and our acquisition of knowledge doesn’t challenge our beliefs and question our realities, then I don’t believe we have received an education; we may have received a degree, but not an education.
Education should be an endeavor in which the learner receives knowledge and encounters and experiences a change in how he or she perceives the world. Education should teach us to be more open-minded, in the sense of wanting to understand better those around us who do not share our viewpoints of the world. Education should teach us to be more conscious of how much good we can do, and to feel a responsibility to leave the world a better place than we found it. Education should lead us to seek more than we find, and to be content even when we do not find at all. Education should teach us to treat each other better because we should understand each other better as a consequence of it. Education should teach us all these things and more because the intrinsic value of education is not that it is a means to any one end, but that it is an end in itself.