Literary Analysis Essay on The Aims of Education by Alfred North Whitehead

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Vanderbilt University
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The essay is about the author by the name Whitehead who published a book about the aims of education in 1929. This essay looks at how his ideas are relevant in the world we are living today. I will hereby explain the ideas on the aims of education which he gave in 1929 as I explain their relevance in the education sector today. This means that I will use different approaches to highlight and illustrate his relevance. Some of the approaches will be in comparison to the aims he gave back then in relation to those that are set today. Another approach will be to highlight Whiteheads aims and from it, I will obtain their relevance today. My order is to analyze each of his aims one by one as I identify those that relate to my topic. What will follow is that I will select a topic in each paragraph and give it a topic sentence. This will enable me to state my ideas clearly. From then I will explain the aim and explain how it is relevant in the world today. In addition, I will highlight its functions and importance to the education today.

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The aim of education is to create and enable learners to possess knowledge and culture awareness. The author goes further to explain that learners should be taught about their culture because it leads to an early self-development which takes place between the age of sixteen and thirty. He adds that the most important part is education given to children by their mothers. In addition, he quotes the Archbishop Temple who stated that the life of a man is what he becomes after he is past eighteen years old (Whitehead, 1929). The insight is relevant today because mothers are now instilling their young ones with cultural values which are rather educating. The curriculum has also developed subjects, activities and topics taught to learners about their culture. This shows that his aims have given education a clear insight on what should be applied in the education curriculum.

Moreover, the aim of education is to ensure that the learner does not acquire inert ideas. This means that the learner should not have un-utilised knowledge in his mind. Knowledge offered to learners should always be kept in use. The author adds that education should come up with strategies which will enable a learner to practice and remember whatever he or she is taught (Whitehead, 1929). Furthermore, educations should aim at establishing skills in a learner. This aim is relevant today because education has skilled instructors with methods of avoiding inert ideas such as giving assessment tests to learners and encouraging revision of the topic syllabus. Hence this aim has clear insight that is relevant in the world today.

Whitehead adds another aim of education is to ensure that learners do not suffer from dry rot. I agree with this aim because learners are known to forget whatever they are taught in class. This aim offers a clear insight in the field of education where the instructors are advised not to teach too many subjects at ones. The author adds that a child should be taught the important part in a subject as the less important part is left behind (Whitehead, 1929). It is relevant today whereby there is a course outline offered to both teachers and the learners. What is more is that it has led to guiding learners and teachers on what should be taught over a certain period of time. Learners can now make a comprehensive timetable on the areas to revise on one by one. I thus view this aim as a relevant insight in the world today.

Relating the past to the present is an aim that Whitehead stated. He adds classics such as those of William Shakespeare should be used in educating learners in future. I agree with this aim because there is no harm to teaching this to the young minds. This is relevant today whereby education has created a platform that learners can be taught of the past and how it relates to today (Whitehead, 1929). This is seen in the introduction of subjects such as literature and history which is the study of mans past event. These subjects have introduced the learners to the past life activities using stories and theories to show the juxtaposition in the two different times. Hence this aim offers insight which is relevant in education today.

Another stated aim of education is that it should serve its definition which is the acquisition of art and the utilization of knowledge. The author gives an insight of this statement by stating that education is not an easy path for both the learners and the teacher. He adds that despite the textbooks that the curriculum offers, it is still hard to interpret some of the ideas that are taught. This is why one has to read a text clearly in order to understand it. Exams should thus focus on what is taught in class in that there should be no time a learner is examined on what the teacher never taught. This is relevant in the education today whereby the exams are given cover an area of topics that the learner has gone through. Moreover, most assessments are now divided into different categories. An example is the top quiz tests, the continuous assessment tests and the main examinations among many others. Education today has ensured that this aim is well implemented in all learning institutions.

Education today also aims at reforming various subjects as well as the way in which these subjects are taught. I agree with this statement because some of the topics which are taught seem to have a lesser function in our lives. This leads to the rise of inert ideas which results because learners tend not to use certain dynamics or skills which they are taught. The authors example is the mathematics topic of solving equation (Whitehead, 1929). The author states that most of the subjects and topic which need reformation are mostly based at sharpening the mind of the learner. Not that this is not important but the fact is that such topics should be long term whereby a learner can use this knowledge of skill learned in his day to day life activity. Failures to this one will develop the inert ideas which depreciate the quality of education being offered. This aim has led to the reformation of such subjects and topics in that the education today has keyed in practical topics for the learner. In fact, these topics not only sharpen the reader's mind but are also practical.

Overindulgence can be a harmful trait in learners which calls upon the education sector to come in and extinguish. The aim of education, in this case, is to discourage overindulgence in a child or learner. Children go to school to acquire education which means that much of their time is spent in school. Education can limit harmful overindulgence through the use of reinforcement and punishment. Harmful overindulgence can be when a learner does something which is not morally correct (Whitehead, 1929). Such an act should be followed by punishment or positive reinforcement. Education today has come up with ways in which the students moral behaviors can be controlled. An example is the set of rules and regulations, setting the way in which punishment is administered, the provision of guidance and counseling services in educational institutions. The aim to extinguish harmful overindulgence in behavior is hence relevant in today's education sector.

In addition, another aim of education should be to offer general subjects because they result in general mind activities. This aim gives a clear insight whereby it is relevant in education today through the availability of general subjects that are compulsory to all learners at different levels. An example today is at the elementary level where subjects such as mathematics and English are compulsory (Whitehead, 1929). What is more is that at the higher learning level we have subjects which are also compulsory known as the common units. I agree that such are the subjects that offer general mind activities. A compulsory example is communication skills which equip one with general life skills like how to socialize and communicate with people.

Another aim of education is to offer special subjects. This will enable a learner to focus on his or her area of interest. The author clearly states that the availability of these subjects ensures that a learner has utilized his abilities and skills completely. This is relevant today via the administration different subjects which a learner can choose to take (Whitehead, 1929). What is more is that there is a wide variety of career choices which learners can select. Education today has promoted all these features leading to professionals in different fields.

It is thus clear that the aims stated in this text offer great educational insights which are relevant today. Despite the difference in duration in which the aims were suggested and that in which they appear relevant, it is clear that the author had a clear scope on the future of education. These aims have helped provide the utility of education as well as set the strategies and ways of education administration.


Whitehead, A. N. (1929). The aims of education and other essays.

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