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The Weekender: Before We Start, We Better Ask Again....What is Education For?

The Weekender features a longer form publication or multimedia production from a reputable source. We select articles or things to watch or listen to that discuss issues and opportunities we deem just off the radar for many business people, students, and faculty. We aim to expand the mind, broaden the heart, and sharpen the analysis. Have a great weekend.

My notes:

As we prepare to re-enter another academic year from kindergarten to college, I thought it would be good to revisit this classic from David Orr. Published in 1991, Orr's "What is Education For?" is a modern classic about education and the biosphere. In the 90s, I remember first reading his statement that "all education is environmental education" and I remember my head kind of exploded. By what is included or left out, he goes on to say, students learn about the importance or irrelevance of our natural environment.

Whether you are a student or a teacher/instructor or professor, I hope you take the time to enjoy and be challenged by Orr's "What is Education For?"

What is Education for? by David Orr (1991)

David W. Orr is the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics at Oberlin College and a James Marsh Professor at the University of Vermont.

"The truth is that many things on which your future health and prosperity depend are in dire jeopardy: climate stability, the resilience and productivity of natural systems, the beauty of the natural world, and biological diversity.

It is worth noting that this is not the work of ignorant people. It is, rather, largely the result of work by people with BAs, BSs, LLBs, MBAs, and PhDs. Elie Wiesel made a similar point to the Global Forum in Moscow last winter when he said that the designers and perpetrators of the Holocaust were the heirs of Kant and Goethe. In most respects the Germans were the best educated people on Earth, but their education did not serve as an adequate barrier to barbarity. What was wrong with their education? In Wiesel’s words: 'It emphasized theories instead of values, concepts rather than human beings, abstraction rather than consciousness, answers instead of questions, ideology and efficiency rather than conscience.'"

Orr goes on to list six myths and six areas for reform.

Six Myths of Modern Education

1. Ignorance is a solvable problem 2. We can "manage planet earth" 3. Knowledge and human goodness is increasing 4. Purpose to give students the means for upward mobility and success 5. We can adequately restore that which we have dismantled 6. Our culture (dominant western) represents the pinnacle of human achievement

Six reforms for modern education:

1. All education is environmental education 2. The goal of education is not mastery of subject matter but mastery of one's person 3. Knowledge carries with it the responsibility to see that it is well used in the world 4. We cannot say we know something until we understand the effects of this knowledge on real people and their communities 5. Institutions should embody ideals and faculty should provide role models of integrity, care, and thoughtfulness 6. The way in which learning occurs is as important as the content of particular courses; process is important for learning

Read the entire essay.

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