Tuesday, December 16, 2008


What is the purpose of proper education? Or maybe the question is best phrased, 'What is the proper purpose of eduction?'


Is the purpose of education to train the individual to be an agent of the society within which s/he finds him/herself? Or is it to train the individual to be an agent of individuated thought and change? The former would be a form of propaganda while the latter that of rebellion. The former is that which propagates a stable and hale society, and the latter that which creates revolution and rejuvenation.

It seems to me that both are required, even while each might abhor the existence of the other and can't be seen together!

Philosophers and thinkers have wrestled with this across the ages.  For example, Aristotle was definitely on the side of stability:

No one will doubt that the legislator should direct his attention above all to the education of youth, or that the neglect of education does harm to states. The citizen should be moulded to suit the form of government under which he lives. For each government has a peculiar character which originally formed and which continues to preserve it. The character of democracy creates democracy, and the character of oligarchy creates oligarchy; and always the better the character, the better the government (The Politics, Book VIII 'On Education' Tr. by Jowett).

Socrates was, if not on the side of the individual, then on the side of the individual questioning the truth of the state. His advocacy of knowing oneself is antithetical to Aristotle's averred purposes of education, and very likely contributed to Socrates being executed by a state that was in a state of trying to stabilize social turmoil and political change.

I have been wrestling with this question for many years, but it has lately come back into immediate focus. That is why, in part, I am reading Aristotle and Epictetus and Socrates at this time.


For pecuniary reasons, and a lack of passion for it, I aborted my post grade school university training after two years. I returned to it, several years later, completing a perverse degree in General Studies around the age of thirty-four. A lot of reading went on between when I started university and when I finished I had crossed between twelve departments.

On my return to school it struck me that the young who were sitting in front of the professors were like acolytes in front of a voice of God. This was especially evident in the department of Economics, where with my book knowledge and life experience — limited though it was — I was able to question the economic truths being disseminated. Both the profs and the tutorial aides brooked no questioning of their gospels. Like pre-economic collapse Alan Greenspan of the US Federal Reserve, their belief in the mathematical ideals of economics was absolute.

Is that the purpose of education? To teach unshakeable beliefs in (transient) truths? Or is it to teach that everything is relative, and truth a holy grail lost behind veils of ideological smoke and mirrors?

Or is there a tertium quid, a purpose to education other than these?


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