School has started. Another year of education and accomplishment. What is it all for?
What is the goal of school?
Consider this plausible exchange between student and teacher:
Student: What’s school for anyway?
Teacher: To learn, of course!
Student: Learn what?
Teacher: Here at school we learn the important things that you will need to know.
Student: Like what?
Teacher: Math, Science, History, Literature.
Student: Why those things?
Teacher: Well… these are the things you need to know for life.
Teacher: They will help you get into college.
Student: I see…
Teacher: And then you can get a job.
Student: And then what?
Teacher: You’ll be accomplished and happy.
Student: What if I’m not? Then what?
Teacher: We can talk later… Everbody…take a look up on the board, I have some problems up for you. You will need to use the quadratic equation. When you’re done, check your answers with a partner and…
In 11th grade, I experienced a similar debate in class. The difference was that it was my teacher asking the questions. He completely turned the tables on us.
–What do you want to be?
-Well…I want to be a doctor.
-“Ok, fine. Let’s pretend you’re a doctor now. Now what?”
-I’ll treat sick people.
-I’ll come home and play golf…
-“You played some golf. And then?”
-“Well…I’ll do something else…
-“Where is the purpose? What is driving you?”
It was like those last moments when you’re losing in chess. All you have left is your king and just resort to rambling around the board, on borrowed time, checked again and again.
We went blank then stumbled into check-mate.
We could have said that we wanted to live large, show off, donate the money to charity or help others. We had no answer though, we never thought about anything other than completing high school and starting college.
We realized we had little clue where we were going, just some sketchy thoughts, barely ideas.
This was the first time we were shown that there was a purpose beyond the subjects we were learning or the goals we had set.
It changed my life.
Why didn’t anyone bring this up before? It started nicely in kindergarten where we were taught not only the basics of reading and counting but also the general outline of appropriate, orderly, respectful behavior. After that, there was less and less emphasis on character, purpose, service and fun. It became more and more about making sure to be ready to move on to the next grade.
Most schools focus so much preparing for later but they never seem to approach teaching how to live right now. Students are sent out to fetch achievements and milestones like they were merit badges rather than being taught to improve, enlighten and thrive. It is more imperative to train them to be productive employees rather educating them to be productive, good people.
We were not made to be this way. We have a natural desire to grow and learn and transcend but we suckled to the wrong source somehow and now all that energy is channeled into causes, jobs, diplomas and honors. They became ends unto themselves rather than means to a greater end that could have been.
Where does it all lead? After a lifetime of chasing one trophy or another, people start living for retirement. This rite of passage has turned into a high-stakes gamble where decades and decades and decades of work is wagered for the chance to play, relax, and travel in the few remaining years left of life. A life’s work in preparation for the possibility of some self-gratification when we may be too weak to enjoy it.
This is not the only model but it is the most widespread one being offered. It gets dressed up from time to time by people in fancy suits, quoting interesting studies and touting the latest buzz words and trends but it’s just a fresh coat of paint- adding little. In the end, it’s still about grades and placement and promotion. We needn’t gut the whole school system to the studs, just change the focus from “preparing for” to “living in”.
Life is a fantastic spectacle, not a checklist. Each moment of life is so precious, why would we ever want to fast-forward through any of it? Even those unpleasant parts that you would rather not endure are filled with gifts. Wherever you are in life, enjoy, savor and learn.
So school has started. Another year of education and accomplishment. What is it all for?
What is the goal of school?
P.S. It felt amazing when I found my I ideas mirrored what Allan Watts had already said.
I lack his eloquence and ability to develop an idea, you should listen to the poignant way he states our case:
Thankfully there are schools where they focus on the whole student. We feel blessed to have found such schools for our children. They care for the good of the child, not the only good of the school and try to do what is best for students rather than what looks best in a brochure (3D printing and “science-ish” stuff is all the rage). We need more schools like this.