There’s more to life than what you read in books

Maybe it’s the caffeine or the sunshine, but I don’t know if an article has ever energized me as much as the one I just read.

I started by watching Seth Godin’s TEDx Talk in which he posed the question:

“What is school for?”

Then I read Dan Edelstein’s article, about the purpose and the indirect impacts of education in the humanities.

However, as incredible as those were, it was Parker Palmer’s article that has me so excited. Maybe the first two set the stage for this one. Maybe it’s just the ideas that he mentions or the incredible examples he used.

If higher education is to serve humane purposes, we who educate must insist that knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize what we know and take responsibility for it.

Palmer’s article really drove home the point that education is for more than just content knowledge. One of the key topics he discusses is the interaction of an individual with the institutions of which they are a part. I believe that this knowledge of institutional relationships is something a lot of folks struggle with these days. Often the narrative of “I have a problem with this organization. I’ll find something else to do” defeats the harder narrative of “I have a problem with this organization. However, I believe in it and will work to make it better.” Too often we believe that institutions are untouchable.

Palmer gets into a deep discussion of how to navigate our own feelings and let them speak to us in the workplace and in academia, which my commentary cannot do justice. I’ll let him speak for himself here.

So we have precious little experience and even less competence at extracting work-related information from our feelings. […] “So what?” might be a reasonable response to that observation—until we realize that a capacity to translate private feelings into knowledge and then public action, when warranted, has been an engine of every movement for social change.

Palmer is asserting, and I agree, that education is for more than just teaching people the “stuff” they learn in school. It’s more than solving equations and memorizing anatomy. Our educational institutions provide settings that could be used for so much more. So what are some things that I believe school is for? I’ll tell you.

School is for

  • Self-discovery
  • Gaining inspiration from those who have gone before us
  • Learning how to make connections between seemingly unrelated topics
  • Building and making and creating
  • Figuring out how our feelings relate to what we do
  • Learning how to work with other people to accomplish a goal
  • Seeing the value in people different than us
  • Learning how to work hard even when you don’t want to
  • Empowerment and Freedom (via Renu)
  • Developing one’s view of the world and their perceived place in it (via Ken)
  • Discovering one’s passions and skills (via Sarah)
  • Learning how to use context for discernment (via Kristen)

School is a playground to discover who we are and how we want to interact with the world around us. My good friend Jeff wrote a blog post sharing college advice he had recently given to a high school senior. His first point really stuck with me:

You will learn about your degree in class.  You have the potential to learn about yourself every single moment.

This is the point I want to end with. Too often our educational system downplays this idea, but it should be sung in every classroom:

The most important thing we can learn is who we are.


What bullet points would you add to the list? How have you learned who you are through interactions inside or outside the classroom?