There was a time when I had no real answer for the question, “What is the purpose of education?” THe answer seemed to me to be both obvious and circular: The role of education was to educate students. However, I think differently now. The need to recognize that life provides multiple learning environments escaped me. A classroom is just one type of learning environment and sometimes, not much of one at all. I failed to see that life, in and of itself, provides arenas in which people can either learn or fail to learn, depending on the privileges granted to them or the limits placed upon them by greater social contexts. Therefore, I now see the role of education as providing means of allowing an individual to see life as a series of unrealized potentials within him/herself that he or she must fulfill through his or her own actions in his or her own terms and meanings with the greater social awareness that others have the equal right to seek the same for themselves.
Paulo Freire considered education a revolutionary process (Freire, 2002). He said, “The revolution loves and creates life; and in order to create life it may be obliged to prevent some men from circumscribing life. In addition to the life-death cycle basic to nature, there is almost an unnatural living death: which is denied its fullness” (Freire, 2002, 171). There are those men who define all of life’s parameters such that the receiver of his definitions has no valid thoughts at all, if those thoughts are in contrast to the definitions that he circumscribed. There must be an action that disrupts his power and revalidates the receiver’s own critical judgment. As long as a human being is under the guise of a powerful man’s life definition, that human being will never be free.
Freedom requires personal affirmation; when anyone seeks to circumscribe life, that person seeks to limit another’s personal life view. There can be no creation when there is a limit placed upon the creative process and when any man defines life through limits, then there is no creation. This is exactly Freire’s point, “Any situation in which ‘A’ objectively exploits ‘B’ or hinders his and her pursuit of self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression” (Freire, 2002, 55). Therefore, it becomes clear that any environment in which certain people have power, as in a teacher or pastor, and seek to stifle any group of people, then that educational environment is oppressive because, “One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition of one individual’s choice upon another, transforming the consciousness of the person prescribed to into one that conforms with the prescriber’s consciousness” (Freire, 2002, 47). I believe that any group or situation can be seen as an educational environment. If, however, the environment doesn’t allow personal affirmation, then it’s not an educational environment; it’s a prescriptive, and therefore, oppressive environment.
Whether or not we see that life itself can be an educational environment depends upon to what we attribute success in life. If we believe that we do in fact have choices in life and that the choices we make will determine our life’s outcomes, then life can be educational. If however, we believe that fate determines the way our lives turn out and that our actions are predetermines, then life can become prescriptive and not educational. In my experience, even if fate does play a role, we can choose to learn from fate or we can choose to give up. I’d rather we all see life as a way to become more fully human. That way, the purpose of education is clear.