The three possible goals for education

Logan LaPlante is a homeschooler and he gave a speech at TedX University of Nevada where he talks about the purpose of homeschooling. The first thing I notice about Logan is that he does not have the regular fear that kids have in a roomful of adults. And he has a surprising self-assuredness. These are the hard-t0-define, nonverbal cues that homeschoolers give off to announce they are not part of the school system.

The self-confidence is great, but it begs the question: why? What is the point of giving homeschoolers that extra confidence they have because they live outside of the rigidity of school. What do you use that self-confidence for? In other words, what is the education for that homeschoolers give their kids?

I think there are three ways you can think about education:

1. Education is for getting a good job.
This is my natural tendency, of course. Because as a career coach, most of the people I coach in their 20s are people who don’t know how to find their passions. And they have no idea how to explore the world without specific assignments. My first thought is: homeschool could have prevented these problems.

Homeschool can give kids opportunities to focus on being great at something they are passionate about, and testing the limits of those tendencies, so that by the time a homeschooled person is 20, they have done all the entry level duties that plague their peers, and the homeschooler can move on to the interesting work of creating and leading.

2. Education is good for self-knowledge.
The problem with this view is that then we have a population full of people who think they spent their whole childhood preparing for the business world, so their life is a waste and a failure if they do not go into business.

This is a particularly acute problem for people who were clearly not born to go into business, like an ENFP, who is not only one of the least likely personality types to find solid footing as an adult, but also the most likely to fail out of college and the most likely to be suffocated by the rigidity of both school and work.

But if you tell an ENFP they were born to give meaning to people by growing a family, that frees them from the constraints of workplace expectations. Many of the sixteen types are like ENFPs. I just took an extreme example – someone who is very complicated and needs a lot of time with people focusing on feelings and intuition.

3. Education is for fun.
Because childhood is for fun. I am persuaded heavily by professor of economics, Bryan Caplan, whose book, The Argument for Having More Kids aggregates tremendous amounts of data to show that nature wins out over nurture in a big way. He says that the real thing parents can control is how enjoyable their kids’ childhoods are.

This is the research I remind myself of when I let the kids play video games for half the day and swing over a snow-covered ditch in our forest the other half; I tell myself education is about having fun. Kids are naturally curious and playful, and good education caters to those tendencies. As a kid’s desire for exploration veers more toward intellect and away from play, education will follow them.

A good childhood gives the child what he or she needs. Which is not, of course, sitting at desks and standing in lines and doing what they are told nine months of every twelve.

I wonder what most parents think education is for. You could do a mix of these three, I guess, but I think most people lean heavily toward one of the three. What’s clear to me, though, is that you don’t need a school structure to achieve any of these goals.

17 replies
  1. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    Hello Penelope, the link above is actually Nevada, not Nebraska.
    As a homeschooler, I’d like to think I create a blend of these 3 on any given day, though with the ages of my children, #1 being the least on my mind.
    Unrelated to your post, I thought you’d enjoy this TED talk, from Sugata Mitra, who just won the $1Mil for the TedPrize idea, which talks about a new paradigm of education and learning. He calls it SOLE– Self Organized Learning Environments.

    Sarah M

  2. Mark Kenski
    Mark Kenski says:

    Einstein did a pretty good job of summing up the goal of education.

    “Bear in mind that the wonderful things that you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labour in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honour it, and add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common.”

  3. Daven
    Daven says:

    Here are others:

    * Education is for learning facts and history and logic, which will help you make good decisions.

    * Education is for learning what the rules are and how to follow them.

    * Education is for learning how to do stuff you don’t want to do, but have to do. It’s good practice for hard or boring adult work.

    * Education is for learning how to work effectively with people: how to negotiate, cooperate, be assertive, be humble, be fair, influence people, make friends.

    • Daven
      Daven says:

      P.S. I make no comment about whether those are good goals or whether school achieves them, just that those are ones I’ve heard.

  4. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    “most of the people I coach in their 20s are people who don’t know how to find their passions. And they have no idea how to explore the world without specific assignments.”

    THANK YOU! My entire life was planned until the end of my bachelor’s degree, which was heavily influenced by my family, and I have no clue what I’m doing now. Last night I reapplied to a job I quit because I know there was a lot of structure there and it was so comfortable for me.

  5. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    what is the most overrated virtue, for kids? It’s obedience.
    And that’s what alot of people probably expect schools to teach their children.
    Obedience, that is a unspoken goal of education. Terrible aint it.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That is so true! And then when kids leave school, the rug is pulled out from under them. Because they have been taught to take cues from someone else, but as adults, we have to make decisions for ourselves. It’s the most fundamental thing about being a grown-up and school does not prepare us at all.


    • JRW
      JRW says:

      I have very little reading time right now, but I really want to make peace with video games and I always appreciate your perspective that you share here Mark W., so I started reading this interview but had to stop when I got to this part:

      “Even at SMU at the Guild Hall, we’ve worked with the Simmons School of Education at SMU to teach– teachers how to recognize– young children between kindergarten and third grade that cannot read and what sort of behavior– goes along with that and how they can work actually with children to– to remediate or to get them basically to start reading before the age of three, which is a critical age for children to be reading by that age. So you can use video games for the better. ”

      Tell me that’s a typo or I can’t waste anymore time listening to someone so ignorant about children and learning.

      • Mark W.
        Mark W. says:

        Thanks JRW. I went back and listened to him in the video. He did say ” … before the age of three … ” which doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not going to put words in his mouth but the only explanation I can come up with in the context of the paragraph is that he maybe meant to say third grade which would make more sense to me. In any case, he did have other good insights on video games.

  6. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Hi Penelope! My parents are both ENFPs. They loved school and were valedictorians in their class. They eventually became military officers, met each other in the army, and got married. It’s only now that I realize that they were going against their personality type with enjoying school and excelling in the military, which are both very structured institutions.

    I think it’s because the primary purpose of education here is to get a job. You do your best in school so you can get a job. You do your best in your job so you can get promoted. When you get promoted, you get higher pay. The cycle goes on so you can eventually retire with more money.

  7. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Penelope – I’m an ENFP. I have often felt suffocated by the rigidity of school and work but do indeed want a career and not just a family. Do you have any suggestions for me? Do you think your Meyer’s Briggs seminar could help me? I’d like to think I’m not going to be stuck at home, unable to have any sort of interesting career…

  8. Brooke
    Brooke says:

    My favourite unschooling quote-

    “Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire” – W.B. Yeates

  9. Jason Kemp
    Jason Kemp says:

    What I liked about the Logan LaPlante TEDx clip was the idea of “unschooling”.

    I do think most of that is an attitude or an approach and so perhaps I’m oversimplifying it here but how about “Education is an mindset for lifelong learning”.

    I am one of those “ENFP” people who accidentally completed a law degree. Lucky while I was at uni I discovered what else I could do and now I work at the intersection of marketing, education and technology.

    What bothered me about Logans clip was the “happiness” as an objective. I do think at 13 that sounds profound but I recall John Lennon was said to have had the same target. ( When I grow up I want to happy.) I think they should have credited that idea because I don’t believe it was a coincidence.

    In the case of Logan – he is 13 so “happy” is a bit of a code for fulfilled or something in that territory and as we say here “no worries” that it is a bit superficial we did like the talk.

    I realise that you wrote the “Pursuit of Happiness Makes Life Shallow” post some months after this one but I do think there is a connection here to the idea of lifehacking in education.

    I had a conversation just this week with a songwriter about how “happy people don’t change the world”. Again that is not quite right as confidence is very much a key attribute to change but what we talked about was how when we are under pressure we are much more motivated to learn and grow.

    And we were having a bit of joke about songwriting and art in general. I ditched one of Lucinda Williams albums (“Little Honey”) because compared to her others it seemed a bit too happy to have any real insights in it.

    I equate education with personal growth and that takes effort. Effort is not always happy but it is rewarding.

    BTW – just found you blog today and loving it

  10. Jared
    Jared says:

    My favorite goal of education is “For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain” – The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers

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