The Best Definition I’ve Heard

I’m still at the Conference on Citizenship at Wayne State University. Today, in one of the panels, I heard something that really struck me: a definition of a good education.

A good education is learning that has the cumulative effect of increasing the capacity of each citizen to control his/her fate.

I like this definition, because self-determination is at the core of the American ideal. But self-determination requires knowledge and skills that equip individuals to control their own lives and pursue their own dreams. We hear a lot about improving education, about test results and teaching methods; we hear a lot less about the content of that education. Other than STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics),¬†we spend very little time considering the skills and knowledge we should be providing the nation’s schoolchildren.

Controlling one’s fate includes the ability to participate in democratic self-government. There is a lot of research that connects civic engagement with efficacy–confidence in ones ability to navigate the social and political environment. Powerless people don’t engage.

Of course, there are different kinds of powerlessness. There’s the kind we can address through education, by giving students the skills and information they need in order to participate in self-government. There’s also the powerlessness that we all face when the system becomes corrupted; when government and those in positions of power only respond to the privileged and affluent. But that’s a subject for a different blog.