The purpose of education: Becoming yourself so you can contribute to society

“Everyone deserves an education that is about their own development as a human being. The purpose of education — is for me to become me — in the context of the society that I live, so I can truly contribute to my society.” — Peter Senge


This week, a passionate community of educators and psychologists are convening in Texas to discuss the future of education. It’s a truly exciting time, the future is bright as these change makers meet to explore new methods for unleashing human potential.

A particular focus for this conference is the psychology of success. There are numerous sessions on Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, as well as a keynote by Angela Duckworth on Grit — a new science claiming to have unlocked the secrets of ‘outstanding achievement’.

While this is wonderful to see, I have always felt something was missing from the ‘success’ literature. Why? In their attempt to focus on the personal traits that promote ‘success’, I believe their research has lost sight of the deeper purpose of education:

The purpose of education is to become yourself so you can make meaningful contributions to society.

Therefore, while it’s important to grow and be successful, this is best done in the service of the greater systems we belong.

Unleashing whole person & whole planet potential

“It’s always important to ask ourselves — what are the fundamental challenges of our society. Today it’s a global society, so today the purpose of education is to prepare kids to become global citizens in a way that really nurtures their uniqueness” — Peter Senge
Peter Senge on The Future of Education

If we really want to give future generations the best opportunity to thrive, we best prepare them for the interconnected global society they will be living in.

Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and Originals, resonates with this view. He suggests that in an interconnected world, what promotes thriving is not the pursuit of achievement, but our ability to contribute.

The thing is, young people are well aware, and deeply concerned about what is going on in the world today. They are concerned about issues like global warming, social justice and inequality. For them, achievement alone is not enough. They want to go out into the world to do meaningful work — and be a genuine force for good.

Therefore, as elegantly summed up by Peter Senge in the above video, I believe it’s time to reimagine how the future of education can be a launching pad for doing things that really matter.

A new psychology of success

“Schools should be a launching pad to a meaningful life” — Patrick Cook-Deegan

Having recently completed the Master of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne, I explored how the success literature could be reframed within a more contributive context. This led me to develop and propose the Benefit Mindset — as a leadership based evolution of Carol Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindset.

The Benefit Mindset describes society’s everyday leaders who look beyond personal achievement, to promote wellbeing on both an individual and a collective level.

What sets these everyday leaders apart from their everyday achieving counterparts is how they aspire to discover their strengths, in order to meaningfully contribute to causes that are greater than the self. They question ‘why’ they do what they do, and believe in making a meaningful difference.

This evolution in thinking is not to suggest that concepts like the Growth Mindset and Grit are unimportant. On the contrary, learning how to grow and differentiate ourselves through deliberate practice is integral to every person’s development. What the Benefit Mindset does is it enrichens this development, by positioning student’s effort within a deeply meaningful and purposeful context.

Today’s everyday leaders manage this by asking themselves questions like: how is my growth and ‘outstanding achievement’ contributing to the betterment of society? How am I making the world a better place? How can we work together to create a flourishing society?

The future of education

“School is about producing leaders. It doesn’t mean bosses; it means people who can genuinely make a profound transformative contribution to their society as a part of how they live their lives” — Peter Senge

The key take way is this; if we truly want young people to live meaningful lives in a flourishing global society — they need to learn how to do it contributively. This is where the real leverage lies.

It’s time to boldly reimagine what’s possible in education — and prepare young people for a flourishing future.