Cart 0

What IS an education?

Education methods Giveaway

My eldest daughter is 4 now and by the end of next year we will have to decide to commit to homeschooling (and what method); some sort of alternative education setting; mainstream schooling; or a combination of the above. It really has me thinking about what I think an education is. What do I hope for my children to come out of an education with? What are simply societal expectations of what education looks like , compared to the true goals of “an education”?

What is an education? Home made math kids on beach


One friend, when I asked the question “What is an education?”, responded with something along the lines of “to be able to work with others, be literate, do maths *, have a basic knowledge of history and science.” Another said, “Be healthy contributors to society”.

When I asked you on Instagram and Facebook** you said:

“ An education is something children acquire through all they experience. All the little experiences, the free play, even the hurts and challenges are what grow a child and build them up into the intelligent, resilient adults we strive for them to become. We offer them experiences and support, and watch them flourish…” @fields_ofdreams

“Education can come from any myriad of experiences, and the skills and intelligences those experiences can feed are as vast and varied as humanity. I wish society would stop looking at an education as these discrete subjects that are taught in isolation, but as a whole that should be encountered simultaneously and balanced with the needs of heart, mind and body. “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education” Mark Twain.” @mamasforestschool

“There are two definitions . The first speaks to the traditional “school” settings where it is a ‘receiving or giving systematic instruction’ and revolves around set standards. The second definition is what I would rather see (particularly in early education (0-8)) “an enlightening experience”…. @childs_play_early_ed

Home made math what is an education parent carrying child
“Education does require effort on our behalf to pause and take the time to expand [when answering a childs questions]. It’s a transfer of knowledge.. @karismiriam (this is a very brief excerpt/summary of what Karis wrote see her comment in full here)

“I stole Peter Gray’s definition. But I like it! ‘Education is the act of acquiring knowledge, values, and skills that are conducive to a satisfying and meaningful life. Self-Directd-Educatiom is education that derives from self-chosen activities and life experiences of the learner, whether or not those activities were deliberately chosen for the purpose of education.”” @twostripedmonkeys

“We are unschooling/life learning. Nothing forced. No curriculum. Student lead learning where I as the parent facilitate and learn right alongside my children. We are avoiding the education system as I believe that it institutionalises children - dictates what they should (dislike that word) learn and damages their natural curiosity. I wish to avoid my kids learning to accept authority without question” – Angeliza Wanstall via Facebook.

If I had to choose one quote on this topic it would be from Charlotte Mason:

Home made math how large is the room in which he finds his feet set
“The question is not, -- how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education -- but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”
― Charlotte M. Mason, School Education: Developing A Curriculum

To me it seems to come down to this: The purpose of an education is to prepare the student (for lack of a better word) to be able to engage in purposeful life with resilience and success (although I don't like the connotations of that word particularly). How do we prepare someone for an ever changing world? At risk of over simplifying things, lets consider 3 main areas that may define “an education”. Not necessarily in order of importance, I came up with:

1. Ability to learn and interpret information
2. Self awareness
3. Ability to apply knowledge

1. Ability to learn and interpret information.
I first wrote “knowledge” when considering this point, but then realised that while knowledge is useful and does educate us, broaden our horizons and understanding of the world, it also can be limiting. What I mean is, if I have full knowledge of how to navigate the seas by the stars and yet cannot operate Google Maps, I am limited. I am limited to stay within the bounds of my knowledge. However if I have the ability to learn then I have access to all knowledge. The need to interpret information is increasingly important in the modern world. We have access to, and indeed are bombarded by, huge amounts of information . This information does requiring interpreting and testing before we accept it as knowledge.

2. Self awareness
This speaks to the need to create resilience. It covers, but is not confined to, concepts such as identity, spirituality, mental health, self-confidence, self-worth and self-understanding. A person’s understanding of the world and their place in it gives them purpose, and confidence to work towards achieving their purpose.

3. Ability to apply knowledge and self awareness
I found it challenging to list examples here because I do value knowledge for knowledge’s sake, just as I value the making process in art as much as any product of that process. However I think it is well to acknowledge that in most circumstances to engage in the world we will need to put our learning into practice. For example, if I have all knowledge of how to add and subtract, and yet do not check my change at the counter I may be the worse off. If I have all the information on how to read music, but do not sing or play an instrument, then I am inane. If I know my personality type and how to address my own particular needs to not burnout and yet do not put supports in place, then my knowledge has not aided me.

So then, if these are my aims for my children. My next step is to consider in which setting these goals will most likely be successfully addressed…

(As an aside, during these discussions about education THE socialisation question has often arisen. Which led me to consider, is that one of the purposes of education? I haven’t listed it here, although it could conceivably come under the second point, and the ability to get along with others may improve one’s ability to engage in purposeful life with resilience.)

How about you? What do you consider an education? How has this influenced the educational setting or educational philosophy which you employ? Do you consider socialisation an integral part of one’s education?



PS I have a giveaway running over on Instagram at the moment, you could score a year's subscription to Mulberry Magazine.  It is running until the end of August see this post for details. 

*This led me to consider what it means to “do maths” but more on that another time.
**Thank you to all of you who took the time to consider this big question, and apologies for cutting responses a bit shorter in places.

Older Post Newer Post