The Aim of Education

This series of articles was written for the Birchwood community by Head of School, Charles Debelak, and can be found in the Birchwood School of Hawken 2019-20 Clipboard Newsletter.

Conventional wisdom in the 21st century would suggest that the aim of education is to accumulate knowledge and skills that will lead to some form of professional productivity and economic security. It represents a ladder for success. At Birchwood, we accept this premise, but we accept it only as a part of a much bigger educational story.

It is our position that the aim of education is to educate children in a way of life. This aim will not only provide children with the knowledge and skills to enter a profession or trade, but it will bear fruit toward human enrichment throughout life. It is a pathway in which an individual is continually discovering who they are, what they can do, and how they can benefit others.

Great education can do that. Great education carefully monitors and assesses its standards of academics and character.

Academically, great education establishes standards that challenge each child to realize his or her potential – in reading, mathematics, writing, social studies, science, or technology. Great education understands that a superior education must call children to their highest level of performance regardless of innate abilities. In addition, great education rouses the love of learning that extends beyond the classroom. Great education is not satisfied with capable students, it seeks to stir enthusiasm for learning that inspires a child’s life.

Great education knows the importance of good character. Great education cultivates courage through which children set high academic goals or face difficult academic challenges. Great education teaches children how and when to exercise self-control and delayed gratification in order to reach their goals. Great education is not afraid to talk to children about hard work, persistence, dedication, and the role of failure and disappointments.

In short, to use Birchwood language, great education is education for becoming. We believe becoming must be the aim of education because there is a fundamental drive within every child to grow, thrive, and flourish. Education for becoming teaches and equips children with the attitudes, habits, skills, and knowledge that they will need to grow intellectually and morally, day-after-day, year-after-year, in every circumstance, throughout their lives.

Historically, the aim of education was to lift people to a higher plane of life, to make each person a better version of themselves. The aim of education was to introduce students to a historical dialogue with the knowledge and habits of mind that undergird the best of civilization and culture and to pass on to each generation the accumulated wisdom that would lead to the betterment of humankind.

With this educational foundation, children can be prepared to face their own world. They can draw upon their learned wisdom and knowledge, and they can make applications to the changing landscape of their own life. They are equipped to make themselves and the world around them better and better, day-after-day. Such educated persons are bastions of vitality, hope, and innovation.

Great education does not merely pass on bodies of information. Rather its aim is to have knowledge become a part of the learner’s own experience and reality, and as a consequence, it would draw out and develop the latent capacities for achievement, for intellectual work, and for moral development. Such young men and women might become agents of personal growth, and constructive influencers upon their world.
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