Education is one of the intrinsic goods of human existence. At the very core of our being is a desire to know, not just a few things, but all things. Evidence of this desire can be seen in the expressions of knowledge from the sciences to the arts--to enter into debate with this precept is to already prove its presence. This quest for truth engages all dimensions of the person: mental, physical, and spiritual. Therefore, education must be oriented towards the holistic formation of the person. Who we are and who we become is affected by what we know.
As a young man St. Augustine seems to have identified a certain benefit of philosophy, at this time he admits that he did not read and learn merely to sharpen his style but to receive substance and content. He viewed this new perspective on the purpose of education as a turning point in his spiritual life by which this emphasis changed his feelings, prayer, values, priorities, and reset his gaze toward the “immortality of wisdom.” Augustine learned to enjoy truth for its own sake rather than for some pragmatic and utilitarian end. Education should primarily be about seeking this “immortality of wisdom.”
Education always instructs the individual how to view the world. This usually occurs informally within the household and more formally within an institution of learning. The type of importance that society places on education has obvious affects on children. People spend countless hours creating methods and styles to teach. A certain seriousness and urgency for education has become a humanitarian cause, but often the fundamental question as to the aim of this instruction is neglected.
The educational task should not be a mere transferring of information, but should directly and indirectly teach individuals in the art of living a good life. Virtues like self control, discipline, seeking the common good, and most important of all, humility, are inherent to the educational process. If they are not in some form present, even in most secular institution, then education is impossible. Every student must stand in a relationship of receiving from without the self from another or they cannot learn. Every instructor must be open to understand who their student is or they cannot effectively teach. Education is much more about interaction within a community, dialogue, and reciprocity than gaining intellectual means to succeed. However, the latter goal is usually overemphasized in modern society. These virtues have roots in the Socratic education which involved knowing the truth about fair, just, and good things in order to help order the society towards the common good and ideal state. The implication is that a person will be rich with happiness because he has a good and prudent life and will be able to impart this knowledge through leadership and example. This, in turn, will help structure society by preventing turmoil and encouraging peace.
The Enlightenment movement of the rise of rationalism has created a problem in the academy whereby people are taught a compendium of knowledge so that they know a little bit of everything, but they should be educated in such a way that they can educate themselves in whatever they will need to function in society. Education has become too enamored with a philosophy of doing rather than a philosophy of being. Curriculum should not exalt technical knowledge over other forms of knowledge. The arts and humanities are possibly more important the sciences. While sciences may help us in understanding physical aspects of the world in which we live and even physical aspects of the self, the arts and humanities help us tap into the mysteries of human nature.
Education must place balanced values on both practical and speculative experiences so that the individual may be well integrated and able to communicate their knowledge. One of the growing difficulties with education today is that we have more fields of knowledge that individuals must develop. To confuse things more, society tends to value only those individuals who can advance in these fields and produce more technical methods than others produce. Those that are incapable of competing in these technological driven fields fall through the cracks all the time. The worth of a person should not be determined by function, yet this theory of utility permeates throughout educational institutions. The end of education is not knowledge of how things work but to enable the person to achieve wisdom about what they should do.
While being wealthy and famous is not inherently wrong, there is a problem when social approval becomes the dictum of the good life and we institutionally stress the importance of education only as useful in procuring wealth and fame. Education should not be primarily viewed as a means of wealth, social superiority, and power over others. Too long education has been used to divide. Education viewed properly can unite by helping build community in as much as it fosters a student’s ability to think, create, and communicate within a spirit of humility. A burden of responsibility always accompanies truth. The truth we know requires us to respond accordingly and education is a gift that better enables us to serve others.