[October 14, 2018] This topic may seem at first glance to be a little off the beaten track from typical leadership themes but the more I see what’s happening on college campuses, the more I realize that it shouldn’t be. The purpose of formal education is to instruct us to be better, more productive citizens. At least, that is what philosophers have told us.1
I like to think of it in a simpler way. Formal education teaches us what to think and also how to think. Because it teaches us what to think through techniques and practices that are specific to some specialized field(s), it takes on rote memory and study. This is difficult in practice, of course, and explains why technical studies require considerable effort and the rewards for successfully completing a program of study are much greater.
Just as important, and some will argue it’s more important, is that formal education teaches us how to think. For this reason, teachers and professors have a great responsibility to provide a sound schooling in different methodologies and models of thinking, logic, and judgment. This responsibility transcends everyday personal tasks and makes those who teach directly accountability to all members of their society.
The ‘how to think’ factor of education means developing both mind and body, spirit, and the social element of the student. It addresses the spirit of sportsmanship, the development of good habits for the control of passions and appetites, and for the moral and intellectual development of an individual. How-to-think education also means the study of the logic of inductive and deductive reasoning.
There is no substitute for formal learning; that which we most often see practiced in a classroom (or group) setting. The attainment of knowledge is thus more than just for the development of the individual.
For a leader, the lesson is that the best way to apply what we learn is in a setting of others where leadership acts as the lubricant. Its leadership that helps ensure all the parts of society function as effectively together as possible. This is why we see such a great emphasis on learning leadership skills.
- Plato wrote that “The aim of [formal] education is to attain knowledge.” Philosophers have added to his thinking and furthermore claim that education is for the attainment of happiness or goodness in life. Socrates, for example, believed that human virtue lies in the attainment of happiness and goodness. Aristotle said that the “creation of a sound mind in a sound body” is the aim of formal education. Thus formal education is something to be sought through vigorous intensity if we are to be a good people and good citizens.