As I have wandered in the “education” wilderness for the past few years, I have asked over and over again, “What is education?”  What makes an “educated” person different from one who is “un-educated?”  If we ask 100 parents what benefit do they expect their children to get from going to school, do we get 100 very different answers?

If we ask 100 teachers the same question, how different are their answers from those of parents?  Or of businessmen and women?

How far away from a consensus are we?  Seems to me that it is CRITCIAL that we decide what constitutes an education before we can decide how to provide it?

In search of insight into an answer I did what we most often do these days.  Turn to the internet.  Which is where I came upon this excellent article by developmental psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell.  She conducted an exhaustive search to find out how some of our leading thinkers have defined “education.”

Interestingly enough, no one described standardized test scores, performance against national standards on NAEP and all of the other “stuff” we spend so much time debating under the notion that we are somehow talking about education.  Before you can use a map, you must know two things.  Where are you now and where do you want to go.  (You remember maps don’t you?  Those folded pieces of paper we kept in the car before GPS came along.)

Honest, I often think we do not know the answer to either of these questions and spend far too much time making mountains out of mole hills.

What is education?  Here are thoughts from many far wiser than I am.

The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. — Jean Piaget, 1896-1980, Swiss developmental psychologist, philosopher

An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you know and what you don’t.– Anatole France, 1844-1924, French poet, novelist

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.  — Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013, South African President, philanthropist

The object of education is to teach us to love beauty. — Plato, 424 – 348 BC, philosopher mathematician

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education — Martin Luther King, Jr., 1929-1968, pastor, activist, humanitarian

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. Albert Einstein, 1879-1955, physicist

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. — Aristotle, 384-322 BC, Greek philosopher, scientist

Education is the power to think clearly, the power to act well in the world’s work, and the power to appreciate life. — Brigham Young, 1801-1877, religious leader

Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer – into a selflessness which links us with all humanity. — Nancy Astor, 1879-1964, American-born English politician and socialite

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. — William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939, Irish poet

Education is freedom. – Paulo Freire, 1921-1997, Brazilian educator, philosopher

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. — John Dewey, 1859-1952, philosopher, psychologist, education reformer

Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.– George Washington Carver, 1864-1943, scientist, botanist, educator

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. – Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900, Irish writer, poet

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. — Sydney J. Harris, 1917-1986, journalist

Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. — Malcolm Forbes, 1919-1990, publisher, politician

No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure. – Emma Goldman, 1869 – 1940, political activist, writer

Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. — John W. Gardner, 1912-2002, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson

Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.– Gilbert K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, English writer, theologian, poet, philosopher

Education is the movement from darkness to light. — Allan Bloom, 1930-1992, philosopher, classicist, and academician

Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know. — Daniel J. Boorstin, 1914-2004, historian, professor, attorney

The aim of education is the knowledge, not of facts, but of values. — William S. Burroughs, 1914-1997, novelist, essayist, painter

The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives. — Robert M. Hutchins, 1899-1977, educational philosopher

Education is all a matter of building bridges. — Ralph Ellison, 1914-1994, novelist, literary critic, scholar

What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the soul. — Joseph Addison, 1672-1719, English essayist, poet, playwright, politician

Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. — Malcolm X, 1925-1965, minister and human rights activist

Education is the key to success in life, and teachers make a lasting impact in the lives of their students.  — Solomon Ortiz, 1937-, former U.S. Representative-TX

The very spring and root of honesty and virtue lie in good education. — Plutarch, 46-120AD, Greek historian, biographer, essayist

Education is a shared commitment between dedicated teachers, motivated students and enthusiastic parents with high expectations.  Bob Beauprez, 1948-, former member of U.S. House of Representatives-CO

The most influential of all educational factors is the conversation in a child’s home. – William Temple, 1881-1944, English bishop, teacher

Education is the leading of human souls to what is best, and making what is best out of them. — John Ruskin, 1819-1900, English writer, art critic, philanthropist

Education levels the playing field, allowing everyone to compete. — Joyce Meyer, 1943-, Christian author and speaker

Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten. – B.F. Skinner, 1904-1990, psychologist, behaviorist, social philosopher

The great end of education is to discipline rather than to furnish the mind; to train it to the use of its own powers rather than to fill it with the accumulation of others. – Tyron Edwards, 1809-1894, theologian

Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength of the nation. — John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, 35th President of the United States

Education is like a lantern which lights your way in a dark alley. – Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, 1918-2004, President of the United Arab Emirates for 33 years

When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts. — Dalai Lama, spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or self-confidence.  — Robert Frost, 1874-1963, poet

The secret in education lies in respecting the student. — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882, essayist, lecturer, and poet

My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance, but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors. — Maya Angelou, 1928-, author, poet