A discussion group of which I am a member was considering the philosophy of education.   One lady quoted the illustrious Dame Mary Warnock, who had said that the chief duty of education was to stimulate the imagination.

Now I have never regarded myself as a hard-nosed factual sort of person.  You will have noted the sorry absence of ‘facts’ from most of my epistles, and how readily I will trumpet an unsubstantiated opinion.   My paragraphs thunder with ancient gods, nymphs dance at my fountains, you might be forgiven for wondering if angels gather on the heads of my pins.   In the wilds of my prose, you are more likely to be surprised by the sudden appearance of a unicorn, than a ‘fact’.

Yet I have to admit, I keep turning over the worthy Dame’s phrase.    I don’t really know what she means.    ( Our friend actually quoted Mary Warnock as having said ‘education deepened her imaginative pleasure’ but I could not find a written quote to that effect.)     How can imaginative pleasure be deepened by education?    I would have thought on the most prosaic level, education with its emphasis on ‘facts’ quite discourages imaginative pleasures.

I considered myself as a mother the principal person educating my children in alliance with their father and with professional help from teachers, coaches etc.   I had  given the matter some thought in advance and I had three main objectives.

The first was to enable my children to survive independently in a potentially hostile environment as rapidly as possible.    I did not subscribe to the body of opinion that seeks to shelter children and safeguard their innocence.    You never really know what the future may bring and what danger they may meet.   Obviously, you don’t want to overburden a child with inappropriate anxieties and you want them to go out confidently to meet whatever the day brings.    But when they went on the first school trip for example, where they were away from home without us, as well as the usual lecture about good behaviour, support of teacher, etc., I also pointed out that they had to be responsible for their own safety and should assess and consider and decide for themselves what they would undertake.   (They all went off cheerfully and returned whole and hearty.)

Secondly, our children had to make their own way in the world (though I would have felt  this however rich they were.)   So first they had to learn the basics tools for acquiring an education, (reading, writing, counting), and then as part of their overall education, acquire the skills and qualifications to enable them to make a living and be a  useful member of society.

Thirdly, you hope to introduce and encourage your child, within the bounds of what your circumstances can afford, and guided by the child’s own ability and inclinations, to a wider cultural, artistic and ethical awareness.

So for me, the purpose of education is to enable the child to become, in his maturity and according to his own desires, the most enlightened, competent and fulfilled person he or she as an individual is capable of becoming.    As parents you are of great influence over the beginning of this life long journey, but the eventual result and destination is a matter for the individual himself.    In the end, they go places you would never have considered, and their experience becomes part of your education.   In my opinion it is not, absolutely not, your place as a parent to decide your child will become a champion golfer/mathematician/medical expert/ astronaut and dedicate yourself to that goal.   That decision is for him alone to make.    Your role is to empower, assist  and support him in his decision in  so far as possible, compatible with your means, circumstances and other responsibilities.

The education of one’s children is an expensive, difficult, time-consuming, exhausting, frustrating, anxious affair.    But to see them grow and develop, now that is one of life’s great delights.

And if in the process they deepen their imaginative pleasure, well, why not?


About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.


  1. Eugene Windsor says:

    I wouldn’t disagree with any of this, but I would have to take issue with the phrase, “education, with its empasis on ‘facts’… ” Mr Gradgrind, in Hard Times, certainly thought that education was about facts and perhaps at that time it was (though I think, even then, Dickens was suggesting that there was probably more to it) but since then there is no doubt that things have moved on, and today the emphasis is much more on skills, competences and behaviours. There is also much greater emphasis these days on the so-called softer skills that enable people to communicate, build relationships and work together, none of which the Gradgrindian methods helped people to do. Today, there is much less emphasis on rote learning of dates of battles and so on. People of our generation may moan that young people don’t know important things like when the Battle of Hastings was, but they are (generally) much better than our generation was at communicating and being able to work collaboratively.

  2. adhocannie says:

    Yes, I agree… but I thought school should be concentrating on ‘facts’ (I certainly wasn’t going to) and social / domestic / religious / etc was up to me!

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