This is the question proposed by Alfie Kohn in his 2004 collection of essays. He states that before we can educate someone we must know what the goal is - the desired outcome. Even if we haven't consciously decided on an outcome, we are working towards one. Then we are faced with the question of whether or not we are working towards a desired outcome. He goes on to say, "The trick, however, when deciding what we really want, is to look beyond the surface and think past the short term." Only then can we evaluate whether our short term goals are supporting our long term outcome.
This being said, when educating a child, one must look ahead to the adult that child will become. If your goal is for your child to graduate at the top of his class and go to an Ivy League school, then that grade on Friday's math test suddenly becomes monumentally important. If, however, your goal is for your child "to have the desire as well as the means to make sure that learning never ends" (Kohn, 10), then that test suddenly becomes inconsequential or possibly even damaging. Indeed, if your goal is to create a lifelong learner, then graduation itself becomes superfluous because graduation symbolizes the end of an education which, in actuality, should never end.
This brings me to my next point: achievement vs. learning. Most people do not realize that these two concepts are not the same, especially when concerned with children. Learning is "the modification of behavior through practice, training, or experience" or the acquisition of new knowledge or skills. Achievement is the "act of achieving; attainment or accomplishment." Take, for example, the laundry. When I get all of the laundry generated by five people through the washing and drying process, I have truly achieved something. However, I have not learned anything because the learning associated with this task was accomplished years ago. Now for a converse example: I love Designed To Sell. I have watched untold hours of this show, all while achieving absolutely nothing. It seemed as if I was merely entertaining myself... until it came time to sell my house. Only then was my learning visible - not on a test, but in real life application - when I received two offers during the first month the house was listed.
I would very much like for my children to grow up to be self-assured, caring, compassionate individuals who know who they are and what they want to do with their lives. I want them to be able to make competent decisions. I want them to be comfortable with their learning processes to the point that they continue to enjoy learning throughout their lives. That being said, our short term goals should be limited to maintaining their safety and well being, giving them plenty of safe opportunities to make real choices, providing opportunities for them to be exposed to new experiences, and most importantly, allowing them plenty of time to be kids - time to explore who they are and what they like and don't like. With an education plan like that, who has time for school?