Turning Purpose Into The Match Game

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           ..from the Bleeding Edgycator

If we’re heading in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking. (Bhuddist proverb)

Having an exchange with an attorney recently got me thinking about “purpose” — not so much in what drives my day or even the whole of my life.  Rather, I gathered a few thoughts about the convergence of purpose(s) when I seek out a professional of some sort who puts him or herself out in the world with both their own purpose(s) and a promise to meet mine, or at least an attempt to do so. In this sense, I’ve been thinking about the matching of purposes as some sort of agreement between me and someone else…a person or an institution.

My purpose in seeing a doctor is to seek a cure for an ailment… or find out if I even have one and he does what he can to match my intent.  I work with a psychologist for the purpose of managing or overcoming emotional.. and perhaps cognitive.. difficulties and she offers the same in return  (or just declares me a goofball and bills my insurance).  I attend the theatre for the purpose of being entertained or experiencing a mirror to my life.. and the theatre group and playwright set out to do their best to make laugh and cry.  I go to a bank to keep money safe and use their services to access it.. or even make a little (very little these days) on it… and the bank uses my money to make money for itself in one of a number of ways (safely, I hope, though with some doubt these days).  I go to a golf pro to improve my game.. and he works with me, to improve my game, maybe.  In meeting up with each of these professions, I have a pretty good sense of my purpose and it corresponds pretty closely to that of the practitioner or the institution.

And we – you and I – seek out or participate in education for the purpose of… ?

How much did I think about my purpose when I was an active student? … not a lot or at least not deeply.  And if you’re an adult thinking about, or already seeking more education, how much have you figured out your purpose(s) to match against that of the programs you’re looking at? I’m not all that sure I remember how well I considered if my purpose(s) jived with that of the institution or the programs I participated in except at some very broad ‘come get a quality education.. I want a quality education’ level.  How well do you think you know the match between your purpose for seeking education and the purpose of the institution that seeks you – and your tuition dollars — out?  How much of an active agreement did I… or you…  make with the universities we attended regarding the mutuality of our purposes?

Let’s try a Column A and Column B experiment… Column A is a list of the purposes I’ve heard from adult students over a number of years – and here I am focusing solely on adult students –  attending one or another program I’ve been associated with at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.  Column B, with no correspondence to its neighbor in Column A,  is a random selection of mission or purpose statements, edited for space (believe it or not), from both universities and programs or departments from several regions of the U.S. who are hawking their wares toward adult students.   (I don’t specify the names or programs here because my intent is not to single out any particular one… the small selection was pulled from a search of the internet and a pile on my desk.)

(Adults’) Purposes for Pursuing Education Institutional Statement of Mission and/or Purposes
To advance my career “The program allows working adults to return or enter college and study only one night a week. Groups, called “cohorts” are placed together in clusters of 15-20 students, who then study together throughout the entire program. These students graduate together and often form life-long friendships. (This university) provides non-traditional education to those who for varied reasons are not resident students.” (West Coast private university)
To broaden my horizons The (program) is specifically designed for adult students (at least 22 years of age) returning to college.  If you would like to complete your degree but feel you do not have enough time or money, we have the solutions that may make the difference. (West Coast private university)
To expand my knowledge in a variety of directions “A (graduate) program where graduate students are guided and supported in pursuing individualized journeys of graduate-level inqjiry and professional development; a program where each student’s idea.. vision to learn and contribute… gets translated into learning for action…” (Midwest private university)
To finish unfinished business in my life (The university) is committed to providing the best possible private education to a diverse and talented student body… (with a) continuous commitment to (opportunity that) must be retained, strengthened and, when necessary, redefined in an uncertain world where many are excluded from the full benefits of higher education due to economic and social factors beyond their control….. In addition, the… commitment to self-evaluation and civic engagement must remain as major goals. All of this must be accomplished during a time of considerable economic change and in the context of strengthening the (university’s) own financial base.…The university’s adult and continuing education) provides flexible programs to allow the adult student to pursue their educational goals. (East Coast private university)
To find personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment The mission of the (university system) to develop human resources, to discover and disseminate knowledge, to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses, and to serve and stimulate society by developing in students heightened intellectual, cultural, and humane sensitivities, scientific, professional and technological expertise, and a sense of purpose. Inherent in this broad mission are methods of instruction, research, extended training, and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the (university system) is the search for truth. (Midwest state university system with adult programming)
To get a credential (This university’s) Master of Liberal Arts and Science degree program is designed for the adult learner ready to return to the collegiate classroom and experience it in a new way. Whether returning to the university to learn what was missed the first time, to pursue a post-graduate degree for professional development or personal achievement, or to more fully explore an academic topic of great interest, …. (the) faculty, curriculum and schedule all have the discerning adult learner in mind. (Mid South private university)
To make me better at dealing with what life is throwing my way (This university) provides access to higher education opportunities that enable students to develop knowledge and skills necessary to achieve their professional goals, improve the productivity of their organizations and provide leadership and service to their communities.

  • To facilitate cognitive and affective student learning… and to promote their use in the work place.
    • To develop competence in communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and information utilization, together with a commitment to lifelong learning.
    • To bridge the gap between theory and practice…
    • To provide general education and foundational instruction and services that prepare students to progress to more advanced learning.
    • To use technology in instruction to expand access to learning resources and enhance collaboration and communication.
    • To assess student learning and use assessment data to improve the teaching/learning system, curriculum, instruction, learning resources, counseling and student services.
    • To be organized as a for-profit institution to foster a spirit of innovation that focuses on providing academic quality, service, excellence and convenience to the working adult.

(Online, globally distributed university)

To get smart(er) Adult education online is available to you through (this university’s adult focused program). At (this program), you can fit completing your college degree into your life and work by taking online college courses… get  help… (accelerating) earning your degree with stimulating adult education online college courses, a generous transfer credit policy, and the opportunity to earn credit for learning gained from your life, training, and work experience. You’ll emerge with your diploma in hand, more confident, more knowledgeable in your field, a better problem-solver, with renewed professional and personal goals. (East Coast state university)
To be accepted by my peers
To climb a social and/or economic ladder

Pretty clearly, the missions and purposes of this group of (wordy) universities set out promises of a challenging educational experiences that will benefit  many individuals and, perhaps, society if fulfilled.  But to a great extent, I find something missing in connecting one (or two or three or more) from Column A to a match-toward-an-agreement in Column B.  The purposes, represented by the phrases of adult students themselves, set out a variety of objectives that are hardly addressed or acknowledged by almost all of the institutional or program purposes.  Certainly, in between these two parties at the educational bargaining table lies commentaries by observers and writers of education, captured, for example, in this blog at Teacher’s Mind Resources. While these commentaries are considerably more loftyand incisive and perhaps closer to a basis for an agreement… well, see if one or two of them are ‘there’ for you.   But where’s the institution to match?  Isn’t one of our tasks as seekers of education to engage that negotiation of shared purpose before getting into the driver’s seat or taking a seat on the bus?

In his preface to In Over Our Heads, The Mental Demands of Modern Life , Robert Kegan refers to the contemporary world as a classroom. His interest is in the question of the capacities of the adult mind to navigate what he terms the “curriculum of modern life” which he characterizes by  multiple and often competing demands inherent in adults’ roles of parent, partner, professional, organizational member… you name it.  What adult hasn’t experienced the demands of this curriculum and the challenges of the ‘classroom’ of the contemporary world… and particularly experienced it with considerable stress if not disenchantment and disappointments?

And what stronger purpose for seeking  education and providing it… the basis for an agreement… than the meaningful understanding and expansion of adults’ capabilities and effectiveness to master ‘the curriculum of modern life?” Might this be the bridge between Columns A and B?

Perhaps.  But because I still have not filled in an answer to the question, “I seek out  the institution of education and the work of professional educators for the purpose of…”,  I feel the need to keep looking for yet one more angle — what better source for another take than from the creators of South Park… who bring us the words of  Alan Watts — philosopher, writer, observer …

In the end, if you’re not sure of your purpose, you’re likely to adopt someone else’s; higher education costs enough as it is.

Morry Fiddler

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