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Student Voices

The Definition of Education

Receiving education in America once meant a chance to escape the ramifications of a limited knowledge. It once provided children a chance to better themselves and move beyond the implications of imprudence that could be forced upon their impressionable minds through those who essentially are in the same position as they are. It’s through education did America once ensure that children learned so they wouldn’t become incompetent thus leading them to become productive citizens of a dynamic land of opportunity.


Today, the definition of education has been fundamentally altered from the definition that it held 20 years ago. The definition of education today is intertwined with the definitions of government, big pharmaceutical companies, special interest, and politically based decisions. In order to understand the definition of education today one must understand educations own definitions that puts labels on everything and everyone. In education today, students are defined by subgroups, and are treated accordingly. Students who can’t conform to the beliefs that all students are alike and therefore should work as a “unit” are defined as ADD or ADHD. However, at times these students are simply defined as “unreachable” or “defective” for reasons in their own are beyond comprehensible. If a student can’t conform to the ideology that all students should be able to take standardized exams that produce a “universal result” than such student is incompetent or suffers from “undefined learning disabilities” and therefore should be subjected to yet more testing. If a student has the tendency to think outside of the paradigm he is unruly or objectionable and therefore is a “disruption to the learning environment.” It is these definitions that define education in America today, students are defined as failures because of atrocities that are not in their domain of control and it gets no better for teachers.


 America has a complacent addiction to defining things that are indefinable, that are unexplainable and immeasurable. We are too eager to become complacent to our fears of not being able to see progression at work and such addiction has gotten us hooked on the dangerous practice of trying to define everything. The second America’s education system started to define students by ability and inability we started embarking upon the path to academic regression and the second we started conforming to the ideology of regressive and repressive  laws like NCLB that define children based on zip code, race, gender, and ethnicity we essentially sped up the effects of regression.


When I look at the ruins of what was once a good system that provided equitable education to children at some point in time I see a sea of students eager to learn. I see a sea of students who are misidentified, over-defined and under-appreciated. I see students who are failed; I see legacies ended before they even began. I see the look of hopelessness in the eyes of students who can tell they are being failed due to our addiction to define, redefine, and then define again. Education should allow students to define themselves, it should encourage such definition to take place from the student but instead it forces teachers and administrators to define such definition for the child. If anything the definition of education at this point is merely a system that defines the definitions of definitions that hold little validity. This is a horrid injustice to students because if educations definitions define a student than a he or she will just conform to such definitions and therefore the student to essentially put him/herself along a track that potentially limits ingenuity, potential and creativity.


This is why students should stand up to educations definitions that limit them and their ingenuity and refuse to conform to such definitions. Students need to demand that they not be held to such definitions but to their true potential. Students need to demand that they have the right to be unique and not act as “units” so that they can embark upon of the ingenuity that resides within their young vibrant minds. Until that becomes the universal definition of education I will work relentlessly to lead students to revolutions of change in every way imaginable until we are freed from the conformity’s of restrictive, redundant, and mundane definitions.


17 thoughts on “The Definition of Education

  1. EqualitySchools: Are you occupying somewhere? Tell us more about what you are doing…

    Posted by Kirsten | November 18, 2011, 7:56 am
  2. It is great to see students speaking against the machine. Keep at it!

    Posted by Brent Snavely | November 18, 2011, 8:36 am
  3. Thanks for this post – I cringe whenever I hear kids discussed as anything other than individuals.

    In looking ahead, I wouldn’t look back 20 or 30 years. Our public education system has always had an agenda of assimilation that privileges students who – in the system’s eyes – “need” the least of it. Check out Ira Socol’s “Designed to Fail” series. Ask around the Coöp for other reading recommendations.

    As a school-successful kid who became a school-successful teacher and only recently began to address the injustices in which I participated, I am gladdened that you are speaking and acting much earlier than I did.

    To push the conversation a step further: what would you be doing if you didn’t have school? What would your peers be doing?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | November 18, 2011, 9:17 am
  4. 17-year-old activists occupy for more creative space in school:

    Hip Hop Occupies Seattle Horace Mann School

    Posted by Kirsten | November 18, 2011, 9:21 am
  5. I just want to say I am honored that you join us! You have a powerful voice and I going to pat myself on the back for recruiting you! I hope this learning community can help to heal some of the wounds that schools and teacher have caused you in the past. We have much to learn from you and hopefully we have some wisdom or perspectives that we can offer you!

    thank you!


    Posted by dloitz | November 18, 2011, 11:57 am
  6. Can we hope that the vision presented here will take root in America and allow students to help define their own education? Love this post and hope it will leave a mark. I often think that teachers and many administrators share the sentiments of students like this, but can’t beat the system. If there is any power in numbers, the educational arena is the place to multiply and magnify our voices for change.

    Posted by Melissa Rohwedder | November 18, 2011, 6:19 pm
  7. Brilliant. Thank you!!


    Posted by Paul Freedman | November 18, 2011, 8:32 pm
  8. Young people are not passive participants in life, nor are they passive in their education. This intelligent and thoughtful input gives voice to the primary stakeholder. Thank you for bringing student views, opposition, and resistance to education reform initiatives out of the shadows.

    Posted by Sandra | November 19, 2011, 6:15 pm
  9. I love your central insights, Jabreel, but I have to tell you, what got me interested in education was watching essentially the same phenomena when I was in school in the 60’s and 70’s.

    Instead of labeling kids as ADD, in those days we just called them “the dumb kids” or “the bad kids,” with disproportionate numbers of poor and minority children labeled as dumb and bad. Instead of being diagnosed and drugged, they just got punished, often in intentionally humiliating ways. The “school-to-prison pipeline,” where kids labeled again and again as failures eventually give up, get angry, become discipline problems at school, and ultimately get into trouble with the law, has been alive and well for a very long time.

    One of the most consistent features of schooling over its entire history is the fact that poor kids are labeled as less intelligent than more affluent kids. Education has always provided a meaningful opportunity for a tiny percentage of poor and minority children, but for the vast majority, it has always been a mechanism for reproducing poverty — and making it seem justified, because after all, the test shows that that they just aren’t that smart.

    To change this we need to do much more than go back 20 or 50 or 100 years in time — we need to re-imagine education from the ground up. I hope that people like you will be involved in that process.

    Posted by Carol Black | December 6, 2011, 5:46 pm
  10. You end this excellent post saying in part, “Students need to demand that they not be held to such definitions”. This, of course would be nice, however, the onus is on the adults who have created this “pedagogy of oppressed”, as Paulo Freire termed it. The question as to why America’s public school system has become “a system that defines the definitions of definitions that hold little validity” is for the simple reason of making schools profitable. The corporate campaign to privatize public education is ultimately behind all of these draconian test-based measures of accountability. What we, as educators, parents and as a society need to do is to fundamentally rethink the purpose of education, and then ask ourselves if our conclusion accords with the dictates of an unrestrained free market. I suspect the answer will be no.

    Posted by Iain Mavro Coggins | January 9, 2012, 1:44 pm
  11. Great points! An approach a coworker and I foster in my classroom is the idea that our perceptions drive our world view, which affects the possibilities we see, and ultimately, the decisions we make. So, if we truly want the life that we are both capable of and responsible for, then we have to learn how to:

    1- deconstuct our prior schema

    2- identify all the critical ideas and their defining observations associated with that life

    3- creatively, critically, and cognitively reconstruct our prior experiences with all of the identified critical ideas and their defining observations into an effective and efficient cognitive organization

    Ultimately, this new cognitive organization or schema is capable of both perceiving and navigating all of the possibilities of a life in a very individualized and intuitive way. In other words, every part of my schema believes that by fostering learning experiences that actually teach learning how to learn, we can foster more than just the opportunity and the tools for individuals, but the expectation and responsibility to:

    * Creatively navigate their life by applying the learning, work, and time required to cultivate all of the critical ideas and observations to do such.

    * Critically understand that each individual not only currently contains, but is also capable of further developing their own creative and critical schema that can perceive and harness any set of possibilities.

    To me this is, and should be, the ultimate purpose of education, and I just try my best to use math as a vehicle to develop these creative and critical thinkers.

    Posted by Sean Briel | March 28, 2012, 10:52 pm
  12. education is a art or process imparting skills and knowledge…………..

    Posted by iqra | March 29, 2012, 1:14 am
  13. Alex Knudtsen, 15 year old social entrepreneur and operator of the Homer Trolley, gives a TEDx talk on just this.

    Posted by Kat Haber | May 26, 2012, 5:47 pm
  14. education is a grassroot of any developed nation.

    Posted by yahuza | June 14, 2012, 3:43 pm


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