A Social Inquiry Into the Definition of Education
By Robert Schiener
Although the early social thought of children can be influenced by a multitude of factors such as mass media and established institutions (e.g., Marxism, democracy), the influence of direct elders (e.g., grandparents, parents) is of prime importance when deriving attitudes and ideologies of such children. These general beliefs often extend into adulthood and provide a base by which individuals evaluate and judge new concepts and theories. As a young adult, this latter premise has held true when assessing my own evolution of social thought.
The aforementioned discussion will lead to an important rationale for deriving my current beliefs as to what education encompasses. In other words, events that I observed as a child have had a significant impact on my current outlook of what it means to be educated.
Hence, as a youngster, my exposure to my grandparents and their personal reminisces of their younger years was quite conspicuous to any close partner of me. Each Saturday afternoon was reserved for grandpa's adventurous stories of coming to the New World without a common language, heritage, or skill level. Such stories were complemented by grandma's own adversities within the harbor. The challenges faced by both my elders were of high degree by any sociological perspective. In fact, as their stories became more enriched with new detail and attention, I came to comprehend that grandpa wanted to earn income in this new nation while grandma longed for the opportunity to volunteer her services to the disadvantaged as she had done in Germany.
To achieve these diverse objectives, they both enrolled themselves in language classes to achieve English proficiency. From the successful execution of this goal, each elder was able to pursue his/her personal objectives he/she had so hoped to accomplish. Because grandpa wanted to support his immigrant family with sufficient income, he registered for mechanics classes which would grant him the knowledge necessary to become an employee of City Industries. Similarly, grandma registered the family with the local parish so that her volunteer activities could be coordinated with the central authorities of the church and its financial resources.
From the preceding, it is apparent that the deliberate actions of my elders had a significant impact on the eventual realization of their personal and communal goals. And from those countless stories of struggle and success, I, as an evolving child, formulated my own emotional conclusions (e.g., pity, joy) regarding my elders' plight. But, however, it must once again be made known that such story telling by my grandparents had and continues to have a significant influence on my mindset. Because I had little exposure to television and media as an adolescent, the proportion of total verbal intake coming from the above stories was high and thus derives a rationale for my current beliefs regarding education in the proceeding.
One might question the above rhetoric as quite detailed and unnecessary, but it is of prime importance to be sure. I am confident in this because often in human nature we define certain concepts and definitions with little regard for the derivation of our own belief system. The personal experiences we have faced as children define, to a large extent, current perspectives. In that light then, the definition of education is quite simple, yet encompassing, in its practical application.
Therefore, I am inclined to believe that education is an intangible tool whose purpose is that of achieving society's Pareto optimality. Put differently, education includes any means by which individuals increase their personal utility or standing within society while possibly benefiting others but harming no member of society including the individual himself. Examples of this are numerous throughout the vivid memories of my grandparents' historic tales.
It is easy to observe the benefits of enrolling in a mechanics class so that one will eventually possess the skills to be hired and thus earn a higher relative income. It is easy to observe the benefits society accrues when a potential volunteer learns the language of the homeless and outcast so that she can assist others with as few personal barriers possible. Hence, it is apparent that grandma and grandpa attained education with respect to my definition. This education included not only the learning of a new language and labor skills, but the knowledge to raise their children successfully by means of teaching them religion, respect, and regard for other persons' rational self-interests.
As a continuation of this definition of education, I believe individuals can better themselves through the comprehension of various skills, yet lack education. Grandpa once told me, "the Mafia in the city sure know the secrets to earning a quick buck in the least moral way possible. Robert, that is no educational attainment." The reason I also share such a belief is that becoming skilled in the various methodologies of crime and chemicals to attain personal profit harms other people. If one's education produces negative externalities upon society (e.g., crime), then it is not achieving Pareto optimality--a necessary goal of acquired education.
In conclusion then, historic events occurring when I was a child have not only created a very important derivation to my meaning of education, but have also formulated a general base by which I have defined education in the present. Specifically, the stories of struggle, education, and subsequent success by my elders have profoundly impacted my attitudes with regards to education. As observed, the realization of Pareto optimality is of prime importance when judging whether an action of learned skill is educated or not. The resultant knowledge must at least profit the learner without jeopardizing the social or economic welfare of bystanders. It is within these liberal boundaries that education lives freely for any individual to experiment with.