ISSUE-148

Formal education tends to restrain our minds and spirits rather than set them free.


Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.


The purpose of education seems to be always under endless debate: while some claim that education’s goal should be to free the mind and the spirit of students, others suggest that formal education tends to restrain our minds and spirits. From my point of view, both positions are correct and they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The key is that formal education is drastically different from the concept of education in general. As a result, although it is true that the purpose of education is to foster a free spirit, it is not the goal of formal education, which aims to select talents from students and shape students to conform to the societal norms so they can become a qualified member of the society after graduation.


To start with, one must realize that the concept of education is much broader than formal education, which primarily constitutes of education by a professional instructor, namely teachers, in a specific venue called schools. In this light, I acknowledge that the purpose of education in the broader sense is to free the mind and the spirit of students so they can come up with their own original ideas. Such ideas are the key to innovations that push human civilization forward. By contrast, if students’ mind and spirit are somehow restricted, it is hardly conceivable that they will make critical contribution to human society. An example supporting my argument above is the world today. Empirically the innovativeness of a country’s student is positively correlated with the extent of freedom that those students can enjoy. Therefore, it is perhaps not surprising to see that students in the United States and in Europe score highest in terms of the ability to innovate, followed by students in Asia. Then, in parts of the world where the intellectual atmosphere is extremely repressive, the capabilities of innovating are scarce. Therefore, because innovation is the key to drive the society forward and innovation cannot flourish in a repressive land, education in general sense should be aiming at freeing students’ mind and spirit.


That being said, I feel the urge to point out that the purpose of formal education is distinctly different from the goal of education in a broader sense. While education in general should be freeing people’s mind, formal education has some other priorities. To understand what those priorities are, we could look at first how formal education functions. Formal education, in my definition, refers to the system of training and learning in schools by teachers. It constitutes an important part of one’s life before he or she steps into the society and begins working as a productive member of the society. Practically speaking, the purpose of formal education is then to prepare students for this adult life, both intellectually and socially speaking. On the other hand, human beings are social animals and a significant character of being a social animal is conformity. That is, the individual should conform to group norms and any deviation from such norms will be considered an outlier and rejected by the group. Hence, in the process of preparing students for their future in the society, it is inevitable that students will be taught to conform to established norms. Apparently, these procedures are not conducive to a free mind and spirit; instead, the emphasis on conformity in formal education actually restrains one’s mind and spirit.


To wrap up, I have demonstrated that the purpose of education in general is indeed to free minds and spirits, but when it comes to formal education specifically, the effect turns out to be restraining our minds and spirits. The reason for this paradox is that the purpose of formal education is different than the education in the metaphysical sense.

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