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Along the Journey  |  

Life and Education

Educational philosopher John Dewey, an intellectual hero of mine, wrote, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” The lifelong learning organization I support, ALLLM, recently produced stickers that riff on this:

We learn across the whole arc of our lives in both formal and informal ways. So why take time on June 6 to celebrate #NationalHigherEducationDay?

Higher Ed – indeed, any formal degree program – is a particular and privileged moment in a lifetime of learning. In 2015, June 6th was set aside to celebrate the value that it brings to people and communities and to advocate for its accessibility for all. And as someone who has given her professional life to this work, I celebrate the recognition and add my voice to the chorus! Why?

Higher education can be transformative.

Dewey also wrote, “We do not learn from experience – we learn from reflection on experience. So, while the School of Life (or Hard Knocks) might provide a good grist for the mill, higher education can provide the space and structure to transform that experience into deeper wisdom with discipline and intellectual rigor. Communities benefit from reflective, intellectually mature members who can see their experiences and the rest of the world against a broader and more informed landscape.

Higher education can be empowering.

Dewey’s philosophy underscores the notion that education is not merely a means to an end but rather a continuous journey of exploration and discovery. To this end, higher ed isn’t just about “getting a job” – it’s about cultivating a curious mind, fostering critical thinking skills, and embracing a lifelong pursuit of knowledge – qualities that scaffold the capacity to live a hopefully and meaningfully in a world marked by deep transition and big problems. (So, do your recent graduate a favor – lay off the “What are you going to do now?” questions and ask them what kind of person they have become as a result of their education!)

Higher education can, at its best, foster a sense of connection and community.

Granted, Dewey had his issues with organized religion. Nonetheless, he underscored the crucial role of shared values and the necessity of an educated populace for an equitable society to be possible. He wrote, “Whether or not we are, save in some metaphorical sense, all [siblings], we are at least all in the same boat traversing the same turbulent ocean.” Higher education, with its capacity to explore the depths of the human condition, can be a space where the Big Questions that affect all of us are explored with integrity and in community.

So, Higher Education Day? I’m a fan. Yes, learning might be a lifetime’s work, but the deep value of time set aside to engage in focused learning is undeniable. Higher ed can be transformative, empowering, and connectional – in a world marked by facile answers, division, and, for some, diminished hope.

And if you’re interested in a couple of these stickers to announce your commitment to this work too – email me!

Dr. Helen Blier is the Director of Lifelong Learning at the Center for Lifelong Learning. She is deeply knowledgeable about lifelong learning for ministers, church leaders, and theologically curious laity, having served in the field for over ten years.

Along the Journey