Friday, 1 June 2012

The question of purpose

Our society, indeed what remains of Western civilization, seems to many people to be falling apart. The economic crisis, the moral crisis, the ecological crisis, and the political crisis combine to create a “perfect storm”. But they all stem from one fundamental error. As a society, we have abandoned a sense of cosmic and moral order for the sake of unlimited growth and progress towards an entirely man-made universe.

A similar process underlies another crisis, the fifth crisis, that of education. It has the same root as the others. Education is in crisis not merely because standards of literacy or mathematics have fallen, but because we have no coherent vision, as a society, of what education is for or what it is meant to achieve. We have assumed that, if it is not merely a cage to keep our young people off the streets, its purpose is to train workers in the great economic machine, the same machine that we hope will produce endless growth. But we cannot know what education is for, since we have no idea any longer what man is for, or what a human being actually is.

As Frank Sheed once put it: “This question of purpose is a point overlooked in most educational discussions, yet it is quite primary. How can you fit a man’s mind for living if you do not know what the purpose of man’s life is?” We need a philosophy of education based on an adequate “anthropology” or picture of man, if we are to put education back on the right track.