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The Traditional Definition of 'Education' Is Fundamentally Flawed

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

We've been defining education wrong for a hundred years and it's keeping our children from reaching their potential.

Most parents want to give their children the 'best education possible'.

The major challenge with this ideal is that many of them aren't quite sure what that means.

Does the 'best education possible' refer to the type of schooling, the quality of teachers, materials, or the curriculum?

It may mean different things to different people, or something else entirely.

However, there is usually one idea that most parents and teachers have in common when they refer to or define education...

An idea that is fundamentally flawed.

And that idea is to equate education with academic learning.

Whether they mean the type of schooling, the teachers, or the curriculum, the primary concern is often on teaching academics -- math, science, reading, writing, history...

Yet true education is and should be more broadly defined than that.

Ancient and modern teachers, philosophers, and thinkers view education differently than the 'masses'. Since Prussian times, the definition used in traditional schooling has been narrowed to focus on academic learning.

Learning from the past, we can see what thinkers throughout history have to say about what education truly is:

  • What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the soul. -- Joseph Addison, 1672-1719, English essayist, poet, playwright, politician

  • Education is the leading of human souls to what is best, and making what is best out of them. -- John Ruskin, 1819-1900, English writer, art critic, philanthropist

  • Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten. – B.F. Skinner, 1904-1990, psychologist, behaviorist, social philosopher

  • The great end of education is to discipline rather than to furnish the mind; to train it to the use of its own powers rather than to fill it with the accumulation of others. – Tyron Edwards, 1809-1894, theologian

  • When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts. -- Dalai Lama, spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism

  • Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or self-confidence.  -- Robert Frost, 1874-1963, poet

  • The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. -- Jean Piaget, 1896-1980, Swiss developmental psychologist, philosopher

  • The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education -- Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968, pastor, activist, humanitarian

  • It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. -- Aristotle, 384-322 BC, Greek philosopher, scientist

  • Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. -- John Dewey, 1859-1952, philosopher, psychologist, education reformer 

  • Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. -- John W. Gardner, 1912-2002, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson

  • The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values. -- William S. Burroughs, 1914-1997, novelist, essayist, painter

  • The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives. -- Robert M. Hutchins, 1899-1977, educational philosopher

Compiled into a list, the true aim of education is:

  • Knowledge of values, not facts

  • The ability to educate yourself throughout a lifetime

  • Knowing how to 'grow your own flowers'

  • Learning from life itself

  • Entertaining and considering opposing ideas

  • Not accepting or believing everything you're taught or told

  • Intense and critical thinking

  • Character and intelligence

  • Capability to do and create new things (innovation)

  • Self-control (of body, mind, & emotions)

  • Self-confidence

  • Understanding of the heart

  • Becoming the best person you can be

  • Sculpting of the soul

  • Refinement and discovery of what is best and beautiful

  • Who we are, not what we know

With this list as our guide, it's clear that our approach to the education of our children has been off course.

If you set out to 'educate' a child by teaching them math, science, and history, you will take a very different approach than if you are trying to guide them to learn from life, develop self-control and confidence, and to understand their heart and soul.

An education of the heart and soul starts by understanding the Hero's Journey, and by helping future heroes to learn to be, learn to do, and THEN learn to know.

The flawed definition of education we've been operating with focuses mainly on the last one -- learn to know. This is a backwards approach to how humans naturally grow and develop.

As we focus instead on guiding our children and students to learn to be and learn to do, they will prepare themselves to learn to know. They will decide the facts, figures, and information they need and want to learn in order to BE and DO.

This approach helps our children to become all they are capable of becoming -- to reach their full potential and become their very best self, prepared to live a life of meaning, purpose, and contribution.

And if you ask any parent, isn't this what really they want for their children?

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