Why Educate?

Responding to http://davecormier.com/edblog/2010/08/29/standards-testing-keeping-us-safe-from-the-creative-economy/

I have thought more about the question, "why do we learn?" or maybe "why do we become educated?" And the only answer that makes sense to me, the only answer that explains economic ("get the credential") motives as well as personal development ("be all you can be" or "knowledge for the sake of knowledge") motives, is the answer, "to have a good life," which in turn is something like, "pursuing one's own good (which may include altruistic goods) in one's own way.

Now this of course is at first blush distinct from the question, "why do we educate." But is does allow us to distinguish types of motivations for "why we educate." One set of motivations, and a very important one for me, is the altruistic motivation, of helping (or allowing) people to have a good life.

But also important is my own pursuit of my own good life. Here there are, for me, a range of lesser motivations, among them including the possibility of earning a living through education, the propagation of knowledge and values that will improve the society in which I live and which supports me, and the possibility that the people I educate will enrich my own life with new discoveries, knowledge and insights.

Different people weigh these moyivations differently. But I would say that in general a balance is required; education without altruism is exploitation, and education without attention to one's own definition of a good life is self-depreciation. The skill lies in understanding this balance, and the elements - economic, politicial, social - that make up this balance, and in aligning them to the maximal benefit of educator and student.


  1. Why educate? An educated populace is required for civility in society. Then we’re educating folks to be more civil and better contribute to society.

    It seems that “Why humans learn?” is a question about our innate drive to learn more. Maybe Skinner or Maslow answered why creatures learn. Why we choose to learn seems to be more a question of motive after self realization.

    Why we educate? Lest the heathens swarm upon our personal liberty unrestrained. Or, like you said, as caring individuals, we may want to share with others to let them experience the tremendous and unbelievable joy of self realization. We may just be hopeful that some best path might lead humanity to greater understanding and responsibility for preserving the utmost of awareness of what was, is, and may be.

    Listening to the talking heads on education reform reveals lack of priorities and vision. As if any one great mind might have, or more money for more of the same might be, the answer. They speak of great faith in evolution but make plans with disregard to evolution’s effectiveness. To me evolution involves fitness and survival, e.g. competition. Self awareness and collectively helping each other maximize happiness should be the priority.

    Limited time.


    My 1 / 2 hour
    John Cotton, jcotton@io.com

  2. From a personal view, we may have several motives to educate and to choose the subjects of education. Young kids (some adults too) choose to educate in video games for personal benefit, boredom-killing excitement.

    The motives are numerous - either from those who promote education on others or within ourselves for personal gain of some kind. Even curiosity becomes a motive.

    Regardless of motives or ethical/moral purpose for the motives, there is an implied gain. However, there is a point in every human activity where 'over-doing' it counts as abnormal.

    I have known and worked with people of all levels of education from the barely knowledgeable to the multi-PhD types. I've seen both earn well and some earn poorly regardless of education. I've seen PhDs become impoverished, too.

    Still, there is a general higher likelihood of monetary success with higher education - generally - until the economy sinks. This is where those politicians who push education stab us in the back through fouling up what can be a good economy. In this soup of political meddling the lack of "practical" education in our political leadership glares in our faces. People having excellent skills and education combined cannot find jobs, earn less than their expectations demand which is based on the "WHY" of educating - ie. 'educate well and your job will always be secure'.

    Education is a wide arena. It does include 'How do I educate so that I can gain even during a crappy economy?' but is not likely to be taught in schools, colleges. It is striking, though, that 'How to properly manage finances, credit, debt' is omitted from high school and college curriculums all over the US. Then AFTER we fail, we have to pay to learn the most important thing on the planet - a few basic rules for handling money. Those who promote education for their own monetary gains from all of us being educated in their schools fail to teach us adequately in the area of proper money management - a foundation block for the personal reasons a student educates.


Post a Comment

Your comments will be moderated. Sorry, but it's not a nice world out there.

Popular Posts