The purpose of education – power, shaping and control

I jumped (uninvited) into the “what is the purpose of education?” discussion by creating a Saturday slot for myself. I care a great deal about this topic, but I sometimes feel like the tone deaf cellist in a high school band… wandering off into my own key. In this case… a minor key.

The bookends questions from the first and last blog posts leading into mine are:

What is your vision for the good society?

What kinds of adults do we want our children to become?

I have two children, and those are two questions that start and end most of my days. Where will society be when that little face leaves my house to make a life of her own? What kind of an adult do I want her to be? What can i do to help her contribute to a world that I’d like to see her live in?

Those questions are paramount in the minds of most parents I know. As long as the education we are talking about is restricted to the kids that are my responsibility and under my control, the choice of shaping belongs to me and to @bonstewart. (their mother)

The shaping we are talking about, however, is far more wide ranging. We are discussing the control we want to exert over an entire population of a grade, a school, a city, a province a country or a world.

Education, in the public sense, has mostly been about control. It was developed to allow people the skills they needed to live in the factories, to show up on time, to do disconnected tasks associated with the industrial revolution. The power to offer this was certainly there at the time, and the need to shape manifest. We have, in many cases, washed away some of the legacy of this kind of shaping, but the ‘purpose’ of education has remained.

The choices are political in more ways than the obvious ones we’ve seen recently in american school districts in their fights over history and evolution. Contentment, building good character, participation, creating a Better Life, cultivation of wisdom. (to carve out a few) are deeply steeped in cultural and political frameworks, the manifestations of which would be dramatically different for people of different religions, ilks or idioms.

Education, it seems, is the method by which we attempt to make the world come out the way we want it to. It is about using our power to shape and control the world to come so that it comes into line with our own hopes and dreams. In any way we move it, even towards chaos and anarchy, we are still using our power to shape and control the future.

If there ever was a ‘we’ to agree on education it doesn’t exist anymore. If we are ever to move forward with the debate, we will need to find first principles that we can all agree on wishing to shape into our futures.

Their futures.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

10 thoughts on “The purpose of education – power, shaping and control”

  1. I’m doing a certain professional project management qualification next week and the pre-reading for it brought home (in a rather scary way) just how horrible the majority of my formal education had been. Fill-in-the-gaps, copy this out, etc. etc.

    As you say, Dave, this is a remnant of a society and job prospects that no longer exist. The trouble is that education, along with other fundamentals in society such as the welfare state, has a superstructure built on top of it that is resistant to change.

    A thought-provoking contribution, Dave, thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Thanks for sharing this Dave. I find your point of view on the aspects of control in education interesting. I have always characterised this element of control as negative, in terms of society controlling individuals by limiting them. You have reminded me that control can be an empowering thing as well. Thanks!

    1. Hi Oliver,

      My point wasn’t exactly that we would be ’empowering’ them but rather that we have no choice BUT to control them. We enforce ‘normal’ in classrooms that shape how people in our culture interact. it’s neither good nor bad… it is what we are as a civilization. The spartans started education at 7 because they were trying to bread ‘fear’ out of their cutlure to make better warriors. Is that ’empowering’? maybe.


  • ๐Ÿ’ฌ Changing school from solving problems to dealing with problems – A way forward (part 2) – Dave’s Educational Blog

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