The real purpose of education

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ever since education as a social enterprise emerged in the development of appropriate societal structures there seems to have been a contentious struggle by those in power to identify its purpose and function within those structures.

An elemental question creeps into the social engineering and articulates as follows:

What should an education be doing for its society, its culture, and its individual constituents?

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How we answer this inquiry significantly defines the society in that the institution of education is both the beacon as well as the mirror of the society from which it was spawned and through which it survives.

And we are nave if we do not think that the same forces, which pulled and tugged at the center of education as an institution a millennium ago are not at work today.

We seem to constantly wrestle the question of the function of education, and it would seem that each segment of our population today has its own parametric answers to that question.

For me, the question rests not with the essentially narrow confines of career preparation.

Heavens, just look at my preparation – three degrees in philosophy from which I have managed to parlay a career in football coaching for some twenty-plus years, then centering upon higher education administration.

I received no formal educational preparation for either of these challenging occupations.

Quite frankly, education for me was a venture into the world of knowledge for the sake of knowledge – unfortunately, it did not put bread on the table for my rather sizeable horde of offspring.

Hence, I turned to a more practical venue and found both respite and reward in my career life.

Still, there are those who insist on a more pragmatic application of one’s education.

A given efficacy to one’s life preparation is seen as being far more important than some erudite excursion into worlds of ideas for their own sake.

From this view, an education geared toward a specific and even technical tutoring is preferred.

This subject matter reminds me of the basis of my doctoral dissertation. where I focused on the philosophy of education propounded by Nineteenth Century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.

This was an area of his philosophy which had largely been neglected owing primarily to his general dismissal as an anti-Semitic racist hailed by the Nazis.

Alas, no one has ever proved that he was anti-Semitic, a notion which he clearly and vocally rejected.

And the abuse of his concept of the ubermensch, or superman, by the Nazis aided this misconception.

Nevertheless, Nietzsche seemed to be facing the same educational climate during his day almost 150 years ago that we seem to be facing today.

Nietzschean scholar Margaret Ann Sharpe in an article entitled, “Education and Culture: A Nietzschean Perspective,” observed that, “Rather than a society that had the inherent power to change, reform and grow, the German society was laying emphasis on stability, with the resulting oppression that occurs whenever change is not tolerated.

Slowly the German state had been gaining control over the educational processes with the result that training was taking the place of a liberal education and the resulting specialization presented no alternatives to the mores of the day.

The German child was learning that the main aim of education was to make money in as short a time as possible, and that this money would lead to happiness.

Education was a necessary evil and thus should be just long enough to train the student to take his place in society.

Anything that advocated change or reform was threatening to happiness and well-being.”

For me, it seems as though we could substitute “The United States” for “Germany” throughout this passage.

The gist of this column is to point out that education today must not be about facts and numbers and data and technology and making more money.

It has to be more.

We must use our technology to deliver a higher quality education; one designed to create thinking citizens in an informed democracy/republic, who, at the same time, are productive contributors in their chosen fields of professional endeavor.

The real purpose of education, then, for a purist like me, is the creation of a well- educated citizenry, which is creative, critical, and analytical.

Within its nest it breeds thinking individuals who know that it is free thinking which is the best defense of any democracy/republic against tyranny and oppression.

And as we plot the course of our educational institutions, I think it is vital that while we educate to learn for pragmatic purposes such as careers, it is crucial that we develop creative, analytical, and thinking individuals for the preservation of that we love the most – our freedom.

Dr. Arthur G. Ogden is the Demopolis Campus Director of Alabama Southern Community College.

All his degrees are in philosophy.

He can be reached at