Here is my contribution to the Purpos/ed project. This is an unsolicited 500 words answering the question: ‘What is the purpose of Education’.
The purpose of education is to perpetuate and strengthen democracy.
We take democracy for granted in the same way as we take going to bed with a full stomach, or not having our houses totally destroyed and our families killed by an enormous wave which arrives without warning. It’s all too human to take things for granted and some would argue it’s a necessary psychological adaptation, as constant anxiety can paralyse us. But history tells us that democracy is not some kind of everlasting stable state, it is rather an ongoing project which needs people’s contribution. Democracy can disappear and be replaced by oppressive regimes (rise of Fascism in the 1930s), or it can decay and be eroded. Many would argue that democracy in the UK is undergoing this decaying process now; particularly in regards to movements of powers to the EU, or the power of multinationals to override the wishes of the population. That is a debate for another project. I merely assert here that compared to so many other societies in the world, ours is a democracy where the rule of law is upheld (we put MPs who fiddled their expenses in prison!), and there are many checks and balances to prevent tyranny and oppression.
The purpose of education is to perpetuate and strengthen democracy, because without democracy then knowledge, understanding and skills would be worth nothing or a fraction of their true value. If we are not free, then what we ‘know’ cannot be free either. And as democracy is a project, the purpose of education is to prepare people to take part in this system. And I don’t mean some cobbled together lessons about the importance of using your vote or the history of the UK parliament squeezed into the gaps where young people are not being shoved through the hurdles of the GCSE and E Bac or whatever other measure the politicians of the day have deemed to be important. What I mean when I speak of education for democracy is an education which starts with teaching an individual how to value themselves, how to see their potential and realise this potential. Democracy, which we tend to think of as a collective entity, begins and ends with ourselves. Democratic education should also help people learn how to relate to others, how to communicate effectively and plan and execute projects. Luckily many of these skills are transferable to the workplace and can be ‘cashed in’, particularly in a knowledge economy
The purpose of education is to perpetuate and strengthen democracy because this project is not finished and we need new generations to uphold the gains made so far and contribute to further work to ensure that people are treated equally and groups cannot oppress other groups.
The purpose of education is to perpetutate and strengthen democracy. It’s not to teach people who Miss Havisham is.