First, let me profusely apologize for my unannounced and extend absence. I could offer up a number of excuses about this semester being busy (which it has been) or stressful (which it really has been), but in the end it comes down to a crippling writer's block coupled with an overwhelming desire for sleep. As I slowly begin to shift down my life into the proper gear, I will be writing again. I promise.
Since President Obama’s call to increase the number of STEM students has focused attention on the role of education in shaping society, the question arises as to what purpose education serves in our society. As the leader of the nation, the President must concern himself with the needs of that nation and naturally sees education as a tool for societal improvement. To that end he has focused his energy on repurposing education to meet society’s needs. While this aim appears laudable, it ultimately confuses the tendencies of education with its true goal. A real education provides the means for an individual to reach their fullest potential. Rather than acting as a mechanism for societal change, education’s ultimate goal is the self-actualization of the individual. Education tends to improve society, but only insomuch as fully actualized people tend to greatly benefit the society the live in.
If we want education to serve the serious purpose asked of it by the world, to prepare women and men for the work of moving civilization forward, it must be allowed to revel in a spirit of play. In order to help people reach their fullest potential, education must occur outside of ordinary life. It must be freely undertaken without any interest in material gain; indeed education must absent itself from any thought of immediate usefulness. Education requires play because education requires failure. Only through failure can you discover what works, and what doesn’t, for yourself. Lest your first failure dissuade you from trying again, it must not have lasting worldly consequences. Play protects education from those consequences and in doing so provides it with the space to undertake its work. The problem begins when our crusaders, ignorant of education’s true purpose, attempt to short-circuit this process. When the focus of education shifts from the individual to the needs of society, utility corrupts its playful nature. It changes the questions from “How does my knowledge enhance my understanding of myself and the world?” to “How is my knowledge useful?” Utility imposes consequence upon education and draws it back into the real world. Once thrown into the ordinary, education loses the play elements which make possible its work.