Usually, I think I can still stand by what I wrote back then. Part of me, though, thinks it sounds mealy-mouthed, and evidence of a fence-sitting mentality that may have paralysed my effectiveness as an educator. I often joke that if there are two sides to an issue, I can see all five, and am usually unable to make decision among them.
I guess my dichotomy is encapsulated in the two tweets I put out on the day purpose/ed launched:
On the one hand: a sense of what education could and should be, and on the other: deep unease about the structure and functions of the education system. Similar reservations recur in many of the purpose/ed contributions so far. I was particularly struck by the link made by Lou McGill between parenting a child who was failed dramatically by state education, and the sense that “capitalist societies want educated populations to operate the means of production, but don’t really want people who are able to question the very structure they are living in.”
I have always felt out of place as a schoolteacher, but rarely as a teacher. Perhaps this can be traced at least in part to the fact that when I made the application above, I was still testing what I felt to be a vocation to the Anglican priesthood. A couple of years later, my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church, which rather put paid to that idea. But though my faith has often wavered, and my ideological convictions vacillated, the sense of pursuing a vocation has never left me. Even when I’ve wanted it to.
Underpinning that sense are notions that do not depend on the sort of religious impulse that gave rise to it in my case. It is there in Stephen Downes’ assertion that “education is sufficient to lift a person into a life of self-awareness and reflection. It is the great liberator, and even should an educated person never rise out of poverty, that person will never again be poor.” It is there in Ewan McIntosh’s idea that “the desire to learn is woven into the concept of contentment and that, for me at least, is the basic purpose of any education system.”
So: the challenge of liberation and the security of contentment; these, for me, are joined in that greatest purpose of education (because it is the greatest purpose of life): love. Not the emotion we think of as the calendar rolls round to Valentine’s Day, but the disposition that chooses to go beyond self-interest, because to do so is for the greater good of others, which in turn leads to greater self-fulfilment.
(We may not get ‘love’ into many policy documents, but surely the highest, most deeply personal, and most profoundly relational of ideals should inform all our thinking about what we actually do to shape the purpose of education.