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Defining education

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

We have been conditioned to believe that education is something that happens in school. At a pre-decided pace, a fixed curricular content is delivered to children. They are sorted in groups by age, and are assessed on their ability to follow the pace and remember the curricular content.

When googling the word education, the first meaning that comes up is “the teaching or training of people, especially in schools”. This definition is a process that has a clear beginnings and ends, that can be ticked on a checklist and graded.

But the root of the word Education derives from the Latin words Educare, Educere and Educatum. These words reflect a very different meaning of what education is. Educare means to nourish, Educare means to lead forth, to draw out. Educantum means developing or progressing.

Education, in its root meaning, is the process of human growth in the widest sense of the word, to offer an explanation of what it means to become a person and citizen. It is the process of continuous learning throughout life. Dewey, (philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education) supports this, meaning that school should not be seen as something children attend as an interruption from their regular lives. According to Dewey, we need to stop looking at education as something preparing for later life, and instead make it the purpose of present life.

A way of structuring such an ongoing learning process is by not affirming the learning content beforehand. Education is an individual process that can and should not be generalized. For each individual to reach their full potential in the future, their education needs to support them to reach their full potential in the present.

The educational philosophy of Integral Education builds on this view of “unending education”. In this approach, education needs to be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experiences, educating towards a future that we do not, and cannot know. The aim is personal autonomy, preparing an individual for the future life means, by helping them know themselves, command themselves, and to give them the means by which they will have full and ready use of all their capacities.

Learning then has its focus on self-formation as a process, as well as in the interactions between the self, other people and the environment. As the future is undetermined, it's the individual's reflective ability of self-awareness and self-determination that are capacities that education must have as a main focus. This translates into the content and educational experiences offered to the child.

It is this process of living that is education, not merely a preparation for future living. Then the process and the goal of education are the same thing. But today mainstream education is very disconnected from the individual. It is instead about teaching and training children to fit a current mold that has been created by past generations. Is this what the world needs?

How children are being educated is reflected in our society, where we humans put all focus outwards on what needs to change in others, but fear the most important- an education that looks inwards, at the self.

Sustainability, Peace on Earth, Human Unity - all these aspirations can only come from a transformation within the human being. Education needs to find its way back to its roots – to become a means for the child to discover the most unknown part of humanity, their humanness.

“Contemporary man is like a child lost in the forest. He is not afraid of the things that he can see nor animals that may be lurking about, but of little things, of the rustle of leaves and the echo of ghostly footsteps. He is terrified of things that do not really exist. Man needs spiritual tranquility and peace: he needs light… who can offer him a little light? …… In his search for the causes of the phenomenon about him, man has obviously learned an enormous number of things about his environment…. But there is still one thing that remains unknown to him, and that unknown is man himself.”

(Maria Montessori)

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