Okay, here’s my response to children who complain about the fact that school doesn’t teach them anything useful like how to pay taxes, get a job, etc.:
That’s not what school is for. That’s what your parents are for. Your parents are the ones who are supposed to teach you how to negotiate real life obstacles and how to do the basic everyday things that need to be done in order to survive in our world.
School is for education of a different variety. I’m very familiar with all the talk about schools and their purpose, i.e. to provide a workforce to the country’s economy that is capable of running the machines and doing the paperwork to keep everything moving. I used to buy into that theory myself. However, after having been alive for a few years since I first subscribed to it, I’ve come to adopt my own theory.
My theory is that the last century of human existence has seen a complete shift in the public attitude towards life in general. Our vision has narrowed, focusing on the ground in front of us rather than the world around us. Schools have failed to teach us because that which they teach is outside of our field of vision. To compound the issue further, many of the people who now run the school system are those who failed to exploit its usefulness when it was their turn to participate as students. We’ve gone from a world filled with pioneers and creators to one filled with… well, drones.
What I hate most about this perspective—I can’t file my taxes, but at least I can do the Pythagorean theorem—is that the teen who has this thought is unconsciously limiting himself. In this instance, he places more importance on the ability to do his taxes, something relatively simple and easy to master, than he does on his ability to understand and perform a mathematical calculation. On a larger scale, a teen who has this thought is indirectly telling himself that abstract, higher-level knowledge is not important…and worse still, that school is a waste of his time.
The concept of organized institutions of learning has been around for thousands of years. It’s what gave birth to the universities and colleges of higher learning that have stood for centuries and still stand today. It’s what gave birth to modern public education systems, and it’s the reason why you’re reading this on whatever device you happen to be using at this moment.
Our society grows because of education. Our technology increases in complexity, our fuels increase in efficiency and our infrastructure increases in stability every day. The reason for this is because there are brilliant, talented and educated people who work on them constantly.
Humanity’s understanding of the universe, and our place within it, grows as well. Our wealth of scientific knowledge in every area from geology to astronomy grows. Things that we have studied for thousands of years already continue to divulge secrets to our scientists because these scientists have educated themselves. They have learned the questions that have already been asked, and understood those that have been answered. They have found answers for the questions left to them by their forebears, and have discovered still new questions to be answered by future generations.
These are the people that education was originally intended for.
We as a species have pushed our boundaries of understanding, self-expression and ingenuity for the entirety of our existence on this planet. It’s what we do naturally, and what we do best. Education is a key component of passing along what we have learned to the future generations. The future generations build upon our knowledge; they construct monuments on the foundation laid for them by us. That is the purpose of education.
Those who fail to understand their environment will soon find their existence dictated by it. In order to understand one’s environment, one must be able to see it as a whole—and that is the purpose of school. Public education brings the sum of thousands of years of trial and error to our youth and presents it to them in an easily understood format. Additionally, we provide these students with learned individuals to help them understand this information. For free.
If we could help our children to understand that school is not to teach them about everyday life, but to show them the mysteries and the miracles behind everyday life, we would completely change the way public education affects them. If every child went to school each day with the belief that they would learn something that would enchant them and bewilder them, our future would change completely. If we could instill the curiosity and the wonder in our students the way Plato and Archimedes did in theirs, we would alter the course of humanity’s future.
School was created to foster that curiosity. To feed it. To tantalize our youth and drive them to discover new horizons. To further our endeavor to become strong, conscientious and wise as a species. That is what school is for. This isn’t to say that it is trivial or unimportant to know how to make a budget; this is to say that it’s also important to understand economics. Low-level, practical knowledge and know-how is important. It’s true that when you’re alone in the forest and cut your arm, it’s critical to know how to stitch your wound. But it’s also true that when you’re trying to cure a genetic disease, it’s important to know that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell.