stephanie jones

What is education for? Getting beyond “a good job”

In American Dream, anti-bias teaching, creativity, democracy, discourse, freedom, inquiry, justice, language, politics, professional development resources, social action, teacher education resources on February 27, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Only recently have I turned my ear toward the discourse of “why” students need or should want an education. I’m stunned, however, by the saturation of the topic with the “to get a good job” discourse.  Most of you out there are likely reading this wondering what rock I’ve been hiding under…but here I am shaking my head in bewilderment wondering what business second graders, fourth graders, sixth graders have thinking their whole life of schooling is for a “job.”

After being in many classrooms, talking to teachers and my university students about what education is for, and hearing many parent-child and teacher-student conversations like “stay in school…get a good job” from all social class backgrounds, I’m trying my best to insert some equally-important options within this otherwise authoritative discourse on what education is for:

What about creativity? Can education be about learning to create? Learning the possibilities of what a creative mind and body can do?

What about social action? Can education be learning about social injustices and working to organize and change those injustices?

What about self-fulfillment? Can education be finding something that makes us happy, filled with passion, willing to work and work at it because it’s fulfilling in and of itself?

What about the journey of becoming a whole person? Can education be about learning and doing in ways that helps me continue on the journey to become a whole person, with knowledge about myself, my history, my shared experiences with others, my interests, my dreams – and the know-how to follow those dreams (whatever they may be)?

What about freedom? Can education be about studying, researching, gaining knowledge and multiple perspectives of that knowledge to be emotionally and intellectually free from the oppressive structures in our society? And to work against anti-freedom practices, beliefs, structures.

These are just a few possibilities off the top of my head – I’d love to hear about others that have been, and can be, overtly inserted into the discourse of education. It would be great if children, teachers, adults, and all of us could have a robust vocabulary around what education is for…beyond getting “a good job.” All good jobs, my friends, don’t lead toward feeling whole, fulfilled, powerful, etc. In fact, many jobs don’t. So let’s let education be a place where the “job” doesn’t restrict ideas of what a person can be.

  1. Hi! Your post reminds me of one I wrote a few months ago about a commencement ceremony I attended — it was so disappointing because they whole tenor of the event went against my understanding of what a liberal arts education is all about. –Treavor

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