Happiness, Education, and the Good Life

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?”  Why did Thomas Jefferson include “the Pursuit of Happiness” in such an important phrase?  I refuse to believe that he had in mind our current notion of that fleeting euphoria experienced when we’re in a great frame of mind.  Instead, I think he had what I like to refer to as “the good life” in mind as our pursuit.

I believe that all of us are in constant pursuit of the good life.  The good life embraces all aspects of our social being: Family, occupation, self-worth, and education just to name a few.  The former three of these aspects are dependent upon the latter.  In fact, I believe that the way I interact within my family, the occupation I have, and my self-worth are all direct products of my education.  While education will be the main topic of this post, please keep in mind that my definition of education is not the normal k-12 of which we often automatically think.

There is presently, and has been for many years, controversy over the state of our public education system and its effectiveness in preparing tomorrow’s citizens with the skills necessay to lead productive lives.  Our high thinkers and problem solvers have come up with various “solutions” means to ensure that the schools are eaching wha is necessary.   State Standards, National Standards, No Child Left Behind, as well as the all-important standardized test all seek to assure us that our children will be prepared for tomorrow.  However, in the haste to fix the schools nobody has stopped to consider what it actually means to be educated.  Education is a word that we all throw around, but how do you actually define it?  Am I educated because I graduated from high school, college, trade school, etc…?  Even the most “uneducated” adult knows that learning does not stop upon graduation.  Does the word “learn” define education?  I would argue not.  Learning is the primary means to education.

Education is a virtue.  A man who is educated knows that he will never be truly educated.  The product of education is not only careers and paychecks, but the knowledge of self and our relation to the natural world.  It is through the knowledge of self that we come to understand who we are, why we behave as we do, and how to improve ourselves not only in civilization, but also in relation to the world.  Education brings with it a life of introspection, knowledge of our inherent value, and knowledge of what it means to live life.  This, I argue, is the good of education.

Humans, no matter of what political persuasion, argue over so many minute details that really do not matter when one is becoming educated.  Education is not found in the facts about names and dates (although names and dates are important); education is found in the individual that uses his or her reasoning power to determine what is the best course of action given his prior experiences and personal temperament.  (Know Thyself)

Society, not our schools, lets children down.  The schools are a direct result of our society’s value and thoughts of education.  In consideration of statements made today about kids rebelling and acting out in school, the reader will likely not like my analysis.  Perhaps these kids rebel more because they know more than we give them credit.  Perhaps they recognize an act of formality in the public education system that previous generations never recognized.  Perhaps they see how scandalous it is that our generations get to determine what they need and do not need to know.  Perhaps they see futility in the mire of topical and cheap factual knowledge crammed into their heads.

Knowledge can truly be power, but not the knowledge that is taught in our schools today.  Powerful knowledge is that which the student gains through experience, observation, and their own level of fascination.  Kids have an innate desire to know.  They don’t want to know because others are telling them what they need, they want to know because they want to explore.  We as humans are by nature curious beings.  We don’t just automatically accept our situation by instinct as lower animals do; we want to know “why” and “how,” and then how do we improve our lot in life.  This is also where true education, powerful education, takes place.  Learning about yourself, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and knowing how you can make a positive contribution to the world.

This is the good life or happiness: To know ourselves and our relation to the external world; to challenge ourselves to become better than we are today.  These goals give us purpose, hope, and a belief in ourselves.  Consider how pointless all of the self-help literature would be if we were all living the good life.

Please take note that I never said we would ever fully achieve these goals.  The good life is not the fulfillment of these principles, but the active pursuit of them.  Happiness is not a fleeting feeling, but the day to day struggle of improving self and our relation to the world outside. 

Are you educated?

Published in: on March 7, 2007 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment