As we seek to refine and reform today’s system of education, we would do well to ask, “What is education?” Our answers may provide insights that get to the heart of what matters for 21st century children and adults alike.
It is important to step back from divisive debates on grades, standardized testing, and teacher evaluation—and really look at the meaning of education. So I decided to do just that—to research the answer to this straightforward, yet complex question. Looking for wisdom from some of the greatest philosophers, poets, educators, historians, theologians, politicians, and world leaders, I found answers that should not only exist in our history books, but also remain at the core of current education dialogue.
In my work as a developmental psychologist, I constantly struggle to balance the goals of formal education with the goals of raising healthy, happy children who grow to become contributing members of families and society. Along with academic skills, the educational journey from kindergarten through college is a time when young people develop many interconnected abilities.
As you read through the following quotes, you’ll discover common threads that unite the intellectual, social, emotional, and physical aspects of education. For me, good education facilitates the development of an internal compass that guides us through life.
Which quotes resonate most with you? What images of education come to your mind? How can we best integrate the wisdom of the ages to address today’s most pressing education challenges?
If you are a middle or high school teacher, I invite you to have your students write an essay entitled, “What is Education?” After reviewing the famous quotes below and the images they evoke, ask students to develop their very own quote that answers this question. With their unique quote highlighted at the top of their essay, ask them to write about what helps or hinders them from getting the kind of education they seek. I’d love to publish some student quotes, essays, and images in future articles, so please contact me if students are willing to share!
Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, is a developmental psychologist working at the intersection of youth development, leadership, education, and civic engagement. Subscribe to Updates at Roots of Action to receive email notices of Marilyn’s articles.
©2014 Marilyn Price-Mitchell. All rights reserved. Please contact for permission to reprint.