What is Education for?

March 2, 2015
What is education for? In many ways, the Life Worth Living class is our answer to that question. In it, we pursue the most important question of our lives: What is a life worth living? I have the privilege of teaching the course this semester; it has already been the most significant teaching experience of my life. It is an extraordinary privilege: asking the big questions, reading from the world’s great traditions (religious and philosophical), and coming alongside students as they consider of each tradition: “If the claims of this tradition were true—if they are true—how would my life have to change?”
 
At the Center, what we’re finding is that what we have is not just a class, but a new vision—in some ways, a revival of an old vision—for the humanities and the university as a whole. This is a vision where the purpose of education is not primarily about means (about how to make things happen in the world) but rather about ends (about what is worth pursuing to begin with). The goal is not to answer these fundamental questions for students (which would be impossible in the pluralistic university). Rather, the goal is to equip students to ask bigger and better questions and answer those questions for themselves and in community. In this vision of education, the key question is: What is the good life? Only with a sense of how to ask and begin to answer this question are the rest of the riches of the university truly of benefit to students.
 
And we’re finding we are not alone. Others share this vision as well. There’s a movement afoot. Just this past month, I have talked with instructors at universities from Switzerland to Maine to Hong Kong about how to reproduce the Life Worth Living course—and its vision of education—in their institutions. There is a growing hunger to make education about so much more than preparing students for a career—to teach students, rather, how to think about what life is for.
 
A few weeks ago, Miroslav sat down with another of these like-minded folks, James Pawelski of the University of Pennsylvania, to talk about this new vision of education and where it might be headed. Check out this video: 
 

 
What is education for? We have a chance, together, to articulate and enact a new answer.