What Education is Not


The news and the talk around the watercooler are often centered on “the state of education,” “reform in education,” and “needing a good education.”  However, what is education?  Is it just school?  Is it a degree or certificate?  Do grades determine education or is it curriculum?  Is education solely what happens under direction or is it self motivated?


Education is defined as:

  1. The act or process of educating or being educated.
  2. The knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process.
  3. A program of instruction of a specified kind or level: driver education; a college education.
  4. The field of study that is concerned with the pedagogy of teaching and learning.
  5. An instructive or enlightening experience: Her work in an animal shelter was a real education.


Now that we know what it is, let’s look at what it isn’t.  Education is not teaching, it is learning. We often confuse the two.  We use educating and teaching interchangeably. However, they are two different ideas and processes.


Teaching is imparting your own knowledge to another and requiring some demonstration of understanding to conclude the lesson.  The student produces a reply to his teacher’s lesson.  This reply is then evaluated and the student is deemed successful or not.


On the other hand, educating is the process of learning, the method of understanding, and the obtaining of knowledge.  In this way, the educating is done by the student as she learns, not by the teacher as he teaches.


In pursuit of a quantitative means to evaluate the level of education of every student, assessments are devised.  However, assessment is not education, either.  While they will rank students based on their ability to reproduce the given information, it is impossible to evaluate the qualitative. It is in the quality of a student’s use and synthesis of facts that education occurs.  These could take months, years, or a lifetime.  There is no way of putting it onto a timeline.


Education is enlightening, the spark of an idea should be triggered in the brain. An idea leads to more study, deeper learning, a hypothesis, testing, and conclusion.  At times this enlightenment come naturally through a sudden understanding of past life experience colliding with the presentation current information.  Other times it is a tedious unfolding, as layer upon layer of instruction and study build the foundation until the true enlightenment of learning is reached.


Education is not a collection of grade levels. It is not a building or designated area. It should know no time nor space.  Education is not a list of rules, a checklist of assignments, a test booklet of bubbles to fill, or a syllabus of study.


It cannot be measured by paper degrees, resumes, or ranking percentiles.  Education is a matter of the heart, brain, and psyche.  Always a personal matter, not a pedagogy.  It knows no limits and accepts no boundaries.  To be educated is not to know what the “right” answer is or what to think on particular topic. No, true education is the ability to think, to reason, to make conclusion and decide your own point of view, but be willing to delve deeper to ensure you are correct in that view.


When we limit education to a time or place or method or material or outcome, we limit the capabilities of an infinitely capable mind. We turn humans into computing machines.  Take data in, spit data out.  Algorithms are applied, but not higher level thinking.  Outcomes are achieved, but material is rapidly forgotten.


Education is a process that never ends. Just as each child learns to walk and talk, learns about hot and cold, learns the wetness of rain and the brilliance of sun; so, too, we must all learn about our world through a process of personal discovery. Providing education to the world cannot stop at supplying books or school supplies, it must continue in the pursuit of dispensing the tools and enticement to grow not only in factual knowledge but a wealth of understanding.


What is education?  It is what it means to be truly human and fully free!


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