The Purpose of Education

Ever older I grow, learning along the way. ~ Solon (Greek lawgiver)

When Michael Nagler of the Metta Center for Nonviolence left the teaching profession after nearly half a century, suffering from a slow shock at what the work had become, he appreciated these words of another departing teacher: “I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. … For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, ‘Words Matter and ‘Ideas Matter.’ While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean.”

What is the purpose of education? A noble one. To help (primarily young) people continue the process of self-discovery that unfolded (hopefully) in the bosom of the family. From the learning individual’s point of view, it is to discover the meaning of life and who we are within it. By these criteria, our educational systems are failing us badly. They have collapsed in the face of a popular culture dedicated to “entertainment,” leading us down the spiral of competition and violence. Not to dwell on or further analyze this failure, the Metta Center’s virtual ‘school’ is our attempt to fulfill that purpose. We do this, of course, from a specific angle, or viewpoint: nonviolence. And we are constantly bring gratified to observe how well this works. Gandhi said, after all, that “nonviolence is the law of the humans,” the very essence of what it means to be a human being, especially in this violent world. So have we discovered in our own experiments with the truth of nonviolence – the truth that we are all connected in, as King calls it, “a seamless garment of destiny.” And so we strive to help others to discover for themselves as well. Learning nonviolence is in this sense a journey of self-discovery.

This is a slightly edited version of a post that ran at the Metta Center for Nonviolence.