Education and a Meaningful Life

Oxford Review of Education 35 (4):423-435 (2009)
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Everyone will agree that education ought to prepare young people to lead a meaningful life, but there are different ways in which this notion can be understood. A religious interpretation has to be distinguished from the secular one on which this paper focuses. Meaningfulness in this non-religious sense is a necessary condition of a life of well-being, having to do with the nesting of one’s reasons for action within increasingly pervasive structures of activity and attachment. Sometimes a life can seem meaningless when it is not so in fact. In more extreme cases it may in fact be to some extent meaningless. Equipping young people for a meaningful life is a worthwhile, but not all-important educational aim. Educators should help them not only to see their lives as meaningful but also to lead lives that <are> meaningful. This involves continuous engagement in the nesting of reasons mentioned above. Where autonomy is also an aim, temperamental attunement to possible options – rather than exposure to all possible options – and time to explore them are important considerations. Questions arise here both about social justice and about whether current school curriculum and timetabling arrangements help or hinder pupils in living a meaningful life.

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