Most educators believe that education builds a better person, a person more knowledgeable, more aware, better able to communicate, highly motivated, and more adept at solving the full range of problems that arise in life. I suspect that most educators think this is the primary goal of education. Doesn’t it then follow that the test of an educational system should be the quality of the people it produces?
In fact, there is no educational institution in the U.S that is evaluated based on that criterion. We evaluate educational institutions based on how effective they are at funneling people into the job market, a standard having little to do with “quality person.” We pride ourselves on being one of the most highly educated nations in human history. But if the aim of education is so profoundly misunderstood, how is that reputation deserved?
Let’s up the ante. The sharpest minds among the founders of our civilization in ancient Greece—Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle among others—believed that the test of a political system is the quality of the people it produced. How are we doing on that score? The question seems absurd. Few people today think the primary goal of a political system is to produce quality people rather than managing competing interests. Apparently, the production of “quality people” is left up to individuals, or perhaps families, with no assistance from schools or communities.
The problem is obvious. We think the pursuit of money and power is vastly more important than the development of persons. The result is a civilization on the brink of collapse.
How should we define and measure what it means to be a “quality person” and who gets to decide? The fact that there are no ready answers to these questions is a symptom of the disease not a rebuttal to its gravity and urgency.