What is the purpose of education?

I cannot think of much else these days – except for the catastrophe of the election of Donald Trump.  People keep trying to understand – to explain how it happened – and I hear over and over again that the underlying problem is education. That this happened at all shows there is a fundamental flaw in our educational system.

Most of the discussion in the educational community is about education of children, teenagers and young adults. In our society, education for the young is very goal-oriented. The goal is to go to college and get a degree or go on a vocational track and learn a job skill. The goal to a great extent is occupational.

The Dalai Lama says that the goal of education should be to teach people how to be happy. He says the educational system is overtly focused on material goals, with a disturbing disregard for inner values.

He says, “Because the existing educational system is oriented towards materialistic goals we need to pay special attention to inner values such as tolerance, forgiveness, love and compassion. In addition to basic education, we need to encourage warm-heartedness, concern for others and compassion. Otherwise, when our marvelous intelligence is led by powerful negative emotions, it invites disaster. The real source of trouble is in our mind and emotions.” Dalai Lama

If this then, is the purpose of education – to teach students to develop tolerance, forgiveness, love and compassion (in addition to a basic education)  then the need for education that is not focused on materialist goals – is essential.

The San Francisco Public School district introduced to four California schools a meditation program called “Quiet time”. Students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades meditated for 15 minutes – two times each day. School officials reported a nearly 80 percent reduction in the number of suspensions each year, coupled with increases in both academic performance and student attendance. This is an example of what the Dalai Lama refers to as teaching ‘inner values’.

I am fortunate to be teaching at Foothill College -one of the very few community colleges that has a community-based program. This program is not about earning a degree – or other ‘materialist’ goals – it is about personal enrichment and growth. I am able with my students – to focus on inner values – though self-care (diet and exercise), memoir writing, anger management, social skills, meditation & the creative process.

By helping students to better understand themselves, their world and their relationships – we contribute to the collective happiness. We need more programs that encourage ‘warmheartedness, compassion and concern for others’. Programs such as teaching meditation in the schools and Life-long Learning.

This is a multi-faceted problem which needs a multi-faceted solution. One part of the solution lies in education – not elimination of what we have but to expand our concept of what the purpose of education is. Teaching ‘happiness’ may be essential to our survival.


2 thoughts on “What is the purpose of education?

  1. Hi Sue, thanks for your great post. I very much support that education comes in many realms, not just occupational (as you mentioned). As a Psych Counselor at FC, I believe that collectively happiness is a such a wonderful goal. I am also very appreciate of FC’s close-knit and support community. We help one another understand ourselves in a world full of diversity, rather than in a bubble with limited knowledge. Great post.


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