The Ends of Education

There have been a number of thought provoking comments on one of Rachel‘s recent posts on a paper she’s working on that focuses on what it means for a New Media Center or other organization to “have an impact on campus.” Gardner commented on the original post asking:

Hmmm. What *does* it mean to have an impact on campus? …..Does an “teaching outcome” count as a “success’ if a student offers a passionate eulogy at your funeral?

This leads naturally to the need for more discussion on what the purposes (or ends) of our colleges and universities really are. Neil Postman in the End of Education writes that most of what was being discussed about education in the mid-nineties was about mechanics, engineering and technology. The salvation of education requires that we move beyond the technical:

Of course, there are many learnings that are little else but a mechanical skill, and in such cases there may be a best way. But to become a different person because of something you have learned–to appropriate an insight, a concept, a vision, so that your world is altered–that is a different matter. For that to happen, you need a reason. And that is the metaphysical problem I speak of.

It’s been a long time at most universities since we’ve taken that conversation very seriously, as Garnder notes in another post:

The apparatus of higher education has managed to obscure that truth about the professional work we do. We can’t even find that “something much larger” on our own campuses, or reflect it in our curriculum, or foster it in our interaction with colleagues, much less find a way to demonstrate it to the world.

I enjoy the discussion of new technologies and new ways of teaching–both those that use technologies and those that don’t. As a faculty member in the School of Education, I feel an obligation to look beyond the hype and to really understand the fundamental changes that “have an impact” on teachers and their students. For better *and* for worse technology is changing why our students learn, what they learn and how they learn it.

The *why* is a tough, but important issue to keep in front of us. For me, the *why* is more about transforming lives than about covering content or preparing people for jobs. We’ve got lots of talking (blogging) to do to learn how to do that better.

One thought on “The Ends of Education”

  1. I’m getting the Postman book tomorrow.

    For me, one of the best books on the why is Jerome Bruner’s The Culture of Education, particularly the first essay.

    Thank you for all your contributions to this conversation. You lead me, and many others, to greater understanding.

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