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Thought-Provoking: What is Education for?

No work on Education should start without understanding what is Education for!

I have had a chance today (23 March 2020) to sit at the Lifelong Learning Institute library and chanced upon the book “What is education for? The views of the great thinkers and their relevance today”.

It has been used in a very loose term – The Socratic Method, being to ask questions.  That is superficial.

In Socrates’ and Plato’s point of view, education is for enabling individuals to distinguish between good and evil, and between the truth and error and to search after wisdom and goodness in their own life, and in the life of their community. To Socrates, the key element in education is “self-examination” – an inquiry into oneself, one’s belief and actions that is lifelong and ends only with death.

Fifteen years after the death of Socrates, Aristotle was born (384 BC).

To Aristotle, the relationship between education and the state is fundamental to Aristotle’s view about education’s purpose.  The nature of the state will determine the type of education to be served; he is more concerned with the outline of education in an ideal state.

The purpose of the state and its education is the same; that human being should flourish and have lives that are successful, happy and virtuous.  He used the term “eudaimonia” to describe the highest human good, and usually translated as “happiness”.

Undoubtedly, Aristotle wanted people to live their lives to be engaged in satisfying and self-improvement activities, show good judgment, and was courageous, generous and wise, as oppose to a live strewed with just accumulation of wealth, or the pursuit of “vulgar” pleasures that did nothing to improve the mind or the soul.

Hence, he believed in the balance between different elements that make up a human being: his body, his appetites and desires, his habits, and his capacity for reasoning.  He saw the distinction between an education that is designed to habituated humans to a certain attitude, emotions, and patterns of behavior; verses the education that is designed to make them think.

The core purpose of education is, therefore:

The exercise of rational principle and thought is the ultimate end of man’s nature.  It is therefore with a view to the exercise of these faculties that we should regulate, from the first, the birth and the training in habits of our citizens.

That training is sequential, starting with the body, then the regulation of the appetites such as desire, anger, and self-will (irrational part of the soul), and ends with the training of the minds.

Aristotle believed the important role of “leisure” education – the form in which one pursues activities for their own sake; not as a matter of utility and necessity (Occupation).  He rated this as the highest form of human activity – the pursuit of intellectual excellence.

The 3 Stages of Education

In the contemporary assumption, education is seen as enabling children to live more satisfying lives while they are still children; and each stage (from primary to secondary, from secondary to higher education) as NOT to prepare for the next stage.  Aristotle identified three stages of education: 1) from age seven to puberty; 2) from puberty to age 21, and 3) from age 21 onwards, and each step is seen as a step in preparation for the next.

The education today is somehow misguided and mal-aligned to the needs of society.

At present opinion is divided’, he writes, ‘abut the subjects of education.  All do not take the same view about what should be learned by the young… If we look at actual practice, the result is sadly confusing; it throws no light on the problem whether the proper studies to be followed are those useful in life, or those which make for goodness, or those which advance the bounds of knowledge.  Each sort of study receives some votes in its favour; none of them has a clear case.

The book shares a great deal on other philosophers, their thinkings adapted to their times; applicable even to today (e.g. John Locke, p.76-79)