You might think this is a silly topic. We all know what education is.
For the most part we do. Education is obviously learning, understanding, acquiring skills, knowledge, and expertise.
But why? How? What are you doing here? How are you getting the knowledge you ostensibly desire and how are you going to use it?
This is no trifling question. Probably the most popular answer to the primary question above is this: “Getting an education gets you a job, and I really want a friggin’ job.” In other words, you are here now reading this because you want to be a doctor someday, and being a doctor requires a baccalaureate degree. You want to make money, is what it comes down to.
I can’t blame you. I’d love some money (if you have any, please send me a money order. For real). There is something nasty about this market-oriented view of education, though. It seems to ignore the entire history not only of the word “education” but also of the history of the educational activity.
The word comes from, of course, from a Latin word which means to “lead out” (ex-ducere). This means two things: first, the sense of “lead out” is something more like “tease out” or “bring out from.” In other words, you are teasing out knowledge from the various books, texts, teachers, exercises or whatever you happen to be doing in and out of class. This is to say that you are responsible for your education since only you can do the teasing. No one is at this institution to simply bestow an education upon you like a tool that you then use to churn money from our economy into your pocket. You make your own way; education is the activity primarily of the student, rather than the job of the teacher.
Second, if education is an activity of the student, something you should be engaging in actively rather than passively, it seems to me that the goal of this activity is not simply to make money. After all, learning as an activity far predates economies such as ours, or even the idea of a job. Just trying to get into a career as fast as possible can only be part of the story by definition.
What then is the point of education? I think it is something like this: to become human. The goal should be the goal of a tradition “liberal education” (note to conservatives: liberal does not mean what you probably think it means in this context). Education is a way in which we find a way to orient and place ourselves properly in the realm of other people (we live in a society people!): it is coming to find out not just what you will do, but what you are going to make yourself into.
So maybe you should think about that, here at the beginning of the semester, and before the various procrastinated assignments pile up later on. What are you doing here? How will you make yourself?