What is the Point of Education?

Posted on by jtcopeiv

What is the point of education?  What was it, and what has it become?  This obviously is a much larger topic than can be covered in a single journal entry, but I would like to offer some thoughts based upon my extremely brief teaching career – a graduate assistant for a semester at college, a semester of physical geology at community college, and now right at a year of high school biology.


Is the point of education, particularly public high school education to make scholars of boys and girls?   Is it to prepare as many people as possible to be engineers?  Lawyers?  Doctors?  Teachers?  Any profession in particular?  Is it to prepare students to move on to college, or to get a job?  If every single child in every single high school went on to college and graduated from college; what would the result be?  Would the nation be better off if every single citizen had a degree in business, or mathematics, or physics, or sociology?  Perhaps history or language would indeed improve a nation.  What if every single student left high school to get a job, and none went on to college?


Is education, or should it be, defined by the scores of tests that students receive; by how much information, in as broad a spectrum of topics as possible, we as a country can cram into our youth?  As President Roosevelt said, “To educate a person in the mind but not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”  This is apparent through then annuls of history.  Many a man and woman with brilliant mind full of knowledge have caused far more harm to their country than help.  The names of Stalin, Mao, Hitler, and dozens of others come to mind here.  They were unarguably intelligent and had a great deal of understanding and knowledge, but they also perpetrated actions with little to no morality apparent.  These names may well be some of the most infamous in history, but the same truth applies to the smallest most seemingly insignificant communities in a nation as well.  Therefore the point of education cannot simply be to stuff as many pages and volumes worth of information into a student’s mind as possible.  For if the student has no idea how to implement the knowledge they will be more of a detriment to society than a help.  So, again, what is the point of educating a person?


As President Jefferson commented in a letter two centuries ago we must, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people, [to] enable them to see that it is [in] their interest to preserve peace and order.”  President Jefferson also noted that, “… it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this [self-interest],” and that we must do this for, “They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”  So, from one past President comes the rule that education serves to preserve liberty.  But how can simple education preserve liberty?  We can teach a child all there is to know about genetic drift, gene flow, sedimentation, differentiation, diffraction and deflection, sine and cosine, and a dozen other topics without them having even the slightest clue about how to preserve liberty.  We must dig a little deeper.


The answer is not in the material we teach alone, but in how we teach the children to use that material.  A look at some quotes from men who gave much to their nation and to humanity in general is worthwhile:



  • “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”
    ― Aristotle


  • “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”
    ― S. Lewis


We must then educate children with the aim of providing the students with the means to use that knowledge in a moral manner.  And this morality must be one that spans the centuries and generations, not one that evolves from one generation to the next or one decade to the next.  The content of the education may change, will change, over time such as discovering gravity or relativity, but the morality, particularly the source of that morality, imparted into a nation’s youth must not change or it is no morality at all.  – JT Cope IV



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