In the coming days I want to examine the idea of education through a series of blog posts. It is important to define what education means. I will attempt to do so in this first post.

The noun form (“education”) refers to a process of learning through experience. We receive education when we learn. In the place of learning we could speak of preparation, training, cultivation, edification, enlightenment, indoctrination, and so forth. Thus, we receive an education. This is why institutions used to speak of “graduating” a person instead of the modern use of “I graduated…” There is a big difference. An institution, or person, gives you an education and when you measure up to their standards they then graduate you. So an education is something which originates from outside of yourself.

The verb form (“educate”) means to develop by teaching. To educate someone is to develop another person by teaching them. In the place of develop we could place the words stimulate, instill, edify, enlighten, equip, cultivate, train, indoctrinate, enable to understand, and so forth. In the place of teaching we can place providing knowledge or training, information, understanding, skill, instruction, guidance, or discipline. Our English word is derived from the Latin e-ducare, which means “to lead or guide out of.” Since education involves knowledge it is to primarily lead or guide us out of ignorance.

All of these various words carry the same basic ideas when we are speaking of the subject of education. But you will notice that when all of the synonyms are taken together that education refers to something more than just receiving knowledge and skills. Education also involves values. When children are educated certain knowledge, skills, and values are transmitted to them. It has been pointed out that the Greek word that is often translated “curriculum,”  paideia, actually means “culture.”  This means education involves a certain culture’s worldview, or belief system.

Any educational system, by its very nature, must transmit values. Education, therefore, is the means by which culture is transmitted to the next generation. Each society decides what is important and what the ideal is like which we, in turn, should be like. Then, through education, children are trained to be like this ideal. Someone, of some people (the culture), picks what is important to be transmitted to the next generation. There is an ideal that the culture strives to have transmitted.The design of education is conformity – conformity to a certain ideal.

Therefore, education involves: (1) knowledge and skills; (2) lifestyle; (3) attitude toward life. Can any of these three be neutral? Some would say #1 would be. However, someone determines what knowledge and skills are taught and which ones are left out, which ones are stressed and which ones are not stressed, and which ones are spoken of approvingly and which ones are spoken of disapprovingly. #2 definitely is not neutral. Education tends to emphasize certain vocations over others (the ones society deems are most needed for society at that time), certain economic theories over others, and certain political theories over others. #3 is also biased. Attitudes are always conveyed. What is the purpose of life? How should we view the world around us? Those are basic questions which are addressed daily through the attitudes which are transmitted through education.

The dictionary definition of education which best sums up the position of this paper is found in Noah Webster’s First Edition of an American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828: “Education: comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts, and science, is important; to given them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.”

[Some of the above thoughts come from Christopher J. Klicka, The Right Choice: Home Schooling and Llewellyn B. Davis, Going Home to School. See also, Douglas Wilson, The Paidiea of God]