Downes on the purpose of education
Stephen Downes recently posted this contribution to Purpos/ed, which resonates deeply. Just out of grad school, I worked and taught in Emerson’s Division of Continuing Education, working with adult populations of few means, often with little preparation for higher education, but with burning passions to learn and to do (Emerson is a communications college with great media programs). It was really humbling to see how hard they worked in the face of family responsibilities, illnesses, financial crises—in short, the effects of living life without a net. And they were, to quote Stephen, capable of the most extraordinary things:
…In the right meter, and in combination with the right experiences, an education is sufficient to lift a person into a life of self-awareness and reflection. It is the great liberator, and even should an educated person never rise out of poverty, that person will never again be poor.
John Stuart Mill said that the principle of liberty is the right of each person to pursue their own good, in their own way. …He understood that the highest principle of liberty was in fact both the right and capacity to actually define one’s good, to freely chose one’s ambition and purpose in life, and to enact the means and mechanisms to carry it out. Freedom is not merely the absence of restraint, but the right to live meaningfully.
An educated population is probably the least governable, the most likely to rebel, the most stubborn and the most critical. But it is a population capable of the most extraordinary things, because each person strides purposefully forward, and of their own volition, together, they seek a common destiny.