Faith Matters with Jennifer Hancock

August 24, 2013 

It's time, once again, for parents to answer this age-old question from their children: "Why do we have to go to school?"

The answer is so they can be educated, of course.

To a humanist, education isn't just a way to impart knowledge. Being educated isn't just about learning a bunch of facts; it's about learning how to think and how to solve problems.

A good education teaches people how to gain knowledge for themselves and how to use that knowledge to make better, more moral decisions.

According to humanist educator John Dewey, the purpose of education is the intellectual, moral and emotional growth of the individual and, consequently, the evolution of a democratic society.

The more moral the citizenry and the better able they are to solve problems, the more successful and democratic our society will be.

There is absolutely a connection between education, morality and societal well-being. Everyone from Confucius to Socrates to Dewey has made that connection. We even see this connection made in the Bible when Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowledge and become as the gods knowing the difference between right and wrong.

The connection between education and improved moral reasoning is why unscrupulous leaders everywhere try to limit education. Not only are people who lack an education at a severe disadvantage, they have a harder time solving their problems and are more likely to be taken advantage of by charlatans and by those same unscrupulous leaders.

In contrast, every person who is capable of deciding for themselves what is moral and what is not is someone who is probably willing to fight against the forces that would oppress us.

The value of being educated is so great that most of the developed world provides free education to all children regardless of background or social status.

Internationally, education is considered a child's legal right.


Because overall societal well-being is directly tied to the level of education of the people.

Universal education is such a driver of democracy that you can pretty much tell who doesn't like democracy by who is opposed to universal education. For instance, the reason the Taliban felt itnecessary to shoot a young girl named Malala was not to prevent her from getting an education, but to stop her from encouraging others to become educated as well.

So the next time your child complains about school, remind them that there are youngsters who are literally being shot to prevent them from getting an education. The have a moral obligation to their fellow children of the world to take advantage of the educational opportunities they are given because not everyone is so lucky.

Jennifer Hancock, a humanist educator and the author of several books, is on the web at and on Twitter@jenthehumanist.

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