A New 3-Rs for Education
The Purpose of Public Education
What is the purpose of education? Is it the traditional “three Rs” – Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic?
Certainly, those topics should be included. But, shouldn’t the purpose of public education be to prepare people to effectively exercise their responsibilities as citizens?
I suggest that in order to accomplish the purpose of preparing people to effectively exercise their responsibilities as citizens our system of public education must:
• Cultivate an understanding of the concept of responsibility and knowledge of what actions all citizens can, and should, take to exercise their responsibility – Responsibility
• Cultivate rational, logical decision-making and the exercise of discernment – Reason
• Cultivate the skills for continuing learning and finding the answers to questions on an “as needed” basis – Research
It All Starts with Responsibility
What is responsibility and what are we responsible for? Ultimately – in the context of our responsibility as citizens – it is about having a duty of care (a moral obligation) for the sustainability and quality of life on this planet.
A good head start
Our planet seems to be designed to encourage sustaining life. With the exception of the human species, all animals and plants seem to come “pre-wired” with just what they need to propagate, thrive, and contribute to the overall balance of our planetary ecosystem that provides a rich and diverse living environment for the collected inhabitants of Earth. There is also a natural balance to our planetary ecosystem. The natural world has some self-correcting mechanisms. For example, animals can over-hunt, or over-graze, an area and the consequences will be that there is not enough food to go around, ultimately correction comes through starvation and/or disease and balance is restored. Harsh, but balanced.
Being human . . .
The human animal, alone, seems to grow beyond genetic predisposition and acquires the capacity for choice. Since humans can, and do, make decisions that may, or may not, be in the best interests of the continued sustainability of life, we have significant power and awesome responsibility.
All other elements of our delicately balanced ecosystem are genetically constrained to act and behave in a manner that is in accord with the continuing sustainability of life. Seemingly, the human species actually lacks the biological hard-wiring for environmentally sound conduct. Instead, we must apply our unique gift of reason to determine what actions contribute to sustaining life and what actions put life at risk.
It may be that we are given responsibility and reason so that we can contribute to the quality of life and not merely the perpetuation of life. Enlightened thinkers have added two important elements for the improvement of the quality of life: freedom, and the right to provide for one’s wellbeing (a right to pursue a livelihood). So there are three things for which we have responsibility: (1) life, (2) liberty, and (3) livelihood. These inalienable rights (as they have been called) apply universally – that is, they ought to be guaranteed to all peoples and every person.
Enlightenment – a corollary to responsibility
In that we are not created with genetic coding that provides us perfect knowledge about which choices and actions best support life, liberty, and livelihood, we are obligated to apply our capacity for reasoning (logical, rational, discerning thinking and decision-making).
Collectively, the scope of this responsibility extends to the entire planet. Since the Earth is a large and complex entity, acting responsibly requires a significant amount of accurate knowledge about the status of things, the consequences of choices and actions, and the disciplines of thought that inform and improve our logical, rational decision-making processes.
The faithful application of our responsibility, then, requires true and accurate enlightenment – the acquisition of knowledge and the competencies to apply this knowledge in making decisions in a logical rational manner.
Levels of responsibility
We might insist that everyone should be granted an equal opportunity to the enjoyment of our inalienable rights, but, unfortunately, we must acknowledge that we are not equal in abilities or talents. Nor, do we end up having absolutely equal roles in the exercise of our collective responsibilities.
Some end up in leadership and management positions and some do not. Some end up with greater levels of responsibility than others. And, the obligation for true and accurate enlightenment increases in direct proportion to the amount of responsibility that one has.
In other words, with greater levels of responsibility there is a concomitant obligation for increased levels of enlightenment. And, at some point, as responsibilities increase, the level of enlightenment required exceeds the capabilities of a single individual. The person with ultimate responsibility must obtain, coordinate, and effectively utilize, appropriate assistance and support.
We organize to apply our best talents to the reasoning and logical decision making required to create and preserve the systems and structures that provide all of us with these inalienable rights of life, liberty, and livelihood. We accomplish this through social institutions, governments, economic systems, mutual agreements, laws, regulations, judicial systems, and the like.
We do this to leverage the power of groups and teams and to accomplish more – both quantitatively and qualitatively – than individuals can. But individuals (in a sort of “we the people” kind of way) do not entrust their responsibility to government or the like without condition. There should be compacts between the people and the collective organizations to which we would delegate these important responsibilities. These compacts identify the overall purpose and objectives of the organizations and agencies and articulate the boundaries within which they are empowered to act in our behalf.
Individual and collective responsibility
Even the best minds and all the resources available cannot get the entire job done. Ultimately, it is only the sum of individual decisions and actions supporting the sustainability and quality of life that will completely fulfill our responsibility.
Every individual has an obligation to act responsibly. And, collectively, we have a responsibility to support individuals in their obligation to act responsibly. At the very least, this would include helping people in their continuing journey toward enlightenment. The logical vehicle would be public education providing people with knowledge, skills, and tools. Education, then, is the path to the enlightenment that enables us to effectively exercise our responsibilities as citizens of the world.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.