What is an Education For?

What is an education for? I see the IS in this question to be more about imagining possibilities—What CAN an education be for?—than dictating prescriptions—that is, What SHOULD an education be for?

Here are some answers that I’ve come up with. I’d like to place them beside and besides the current “should” answers, which are: learning marketable skills, earning a degree and getting a job.

what is an education for?

  • To develop new languages for understanding mySelf and the world.
  • To connect with ideas, authors, other people.
  • To cultivate and practice being curious and capacious.
  • To be exposed to new ideas, new worlds, new ways of being.
  • To harness passion and direct it in meaningful ways.
  • To develop resources for processing and healing.
  • To acquire tools for resisting and reimagining.
  • To engage in/with LIFE.
  • And to contribute to and sustain ongoing conversations that are bigger than any one individual or institution.

This last goal, of contributing to larger conversations, is inspired by Andrea Smith and her brief essay for a roundtable discussion on the Academic Industrial Complex in a 2007 issue of The Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Here’s what she sees as a primary goal for intellectual work:

our contribution should be seen as part of a larger collaborative intellectual project whereby our goal is not to prove our own brilliance, but rather to perpetuate a conversation that will continue beyond our contribution. If years from now no one remembers what we said, then we will have still done important work if we did our part to keep the larger conversation going (142).

Andrea Smith

What is the larger conversation that we need to keep going? For me, it’s about: 1. exploring how and where we become thinking, feeling, and engaged Selves and 2. about deeply questioning whether or not the Academy is a space for fostering that development. While I have some ideas about how to answer the first part, I’m less certain about the second. What I do believe is that we need to make spaces for thinking critically about the limits of the Academy and we need to keep the conversation about how to resist, rethink and even restructure it going.