The purpose of education is to enable people to understand, navigate, contribute to, challenge and change the world.
To many children and young people, adults seem distinguishable by their finishedness, their completeness. We have ‘grown up’. We have become inflexible, we have ceased to play, to imagine; our appetite for adventure has been diminished, not increased, by our understanding of the world; our wild and even gentle ambitions have been curtailed by the demands of making a living, of ‘the real world’. Instead of growing in confidence and maturity enough to hazard risk, to be wrong, to change our minds, the adult world seems very often to promote an infantile belief in the benefits and possibility of absolute certainty, mastery, fixedness. The assumption of due respect for this completedness is easy to recognise as often framing and establishing authority and providing boundaries within formal education: I am the one who knows, and you are the one who is in the process of knowing, of becoming the possessor of knowledge, of completion.
For me then, a fundamental purpose of education should be to acknowledge the inevitability of change, to celebrate the value of life as a thing in process, and to promote an awareness of other possibilities, other ways of doing things – of discoveries yet to be made and solutions yet to be invented. Change is, of course, not always positive. It can be unwelcome and damaging. It can be extremely difficult to come to terms with. Even positive changes – for example, changes in how people deal with and think about terrible things that have affected them, while they might free us up and make us happier people, or at least allow us to live our lives less painfully, are extremely difficult to go though. But the alternatives to change, if there are any, are entropy, denial and death.
Education should critically ensure children, young people and adults are equipped to be unsettled, to be confronted by difference, to be changed, and to effect change. Education is a conduit to different cultures, different places, different times – to different ways of thinking about things and doing things. Education provides us with an introduction to things unimagined and unencountered. It should provide the critical challenge to examine our beliefs, interpretations and horizons, the ability to reexamining ourselves in new contexts, to develop new interests, to review the ways in which we understand ourselves and our place in the world. The purpose of education should be to expand expectations, not to confine them – to support our learners in understanding the impact they can and do have on their world. We cannot expect education built upon, and educators who model, a fixation with certainty and inflexibility to meet the urgent and ongoing needs of pressing social, economic and political change.