Gray Matters, February 2024

Exploring Purpose 

Lately, both personally and professionally, I have found the word purpose rattling around in my head. As relatively recent empty nesters, my wife and I continue to navigate a shift in the purpose of our roles as parents. Earlier this year, “Exploring Purpose” was the theme of the fall edition of Independent School, a quarterly magazine produced by the National Association of Independent Schools. The volume was rich with provocative articles centered around purpose in education.

In his book The Path to Purpose, William Damon defines purpose as “Stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond self.” During our Full-Staff meeting this past Wednesday, we examined the intentions inherent in the purpose of our vocation, specifically the purpose of learning and the purpose of education. I asked my colleagues to consider and discuss the following quotes:

“Our brains still bear evidence of their original purpose: to manage our bodies and minds in the service of living, and living happily, in the world with other people.” 
(Mary Helen Immordino-Yang)

“Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society…We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.” 
(Martin Luther King, Jr., The Purpose of Education

“My hope emerges from those places of struggle where I witness individuals positively transforming their lives and the world around them. Educating is a vocation rooted in hopefulness. As teachers we believe that learning is possible, that nothing can keep an open mind from seeking after knowledge and finding a way to know.” 
(bell hooks, Teaching Community: Pedagogy of Hope)

Our educators engaged in meaningful conversations with one another, the quotes sparking conversations around access and equity in education, simplicity, technology, the process of learning, the importance of forming emotional connections with subject matter, and how purpose and mission intersect. Through exercises such as this one, I’m continually reminded of the intentionality, authenticity, and passion that our educators bring into their work with your children.

Now, I encourage you to do the same. Is there anything in the quotes that resonates with you? Is there something you are challenged by? How do these quotes fit into your ideas and understandings of the purpose of learning and the purpose of education