Sometimes we take a class to learn a specific skill we don’t already possess, like sewing or swimming or Java programming. Learning skills is important, and commendable. But education is bigger than skill-building. Education opens our minds to new ideas, to perspectives we may have never considered. And education often happens when we’re not even looking for it.
When we grow up spending time with people who all think the same way we do, our world is small. That’s OK; our worlds tend to start out that way. But education offers the opportunity to move us beyond that small-world thinking, to learn that there are other ways of approaching life that may be just as valuable as our own. Education extends our borders. It helps us take the place of another; it gives us the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
We don’t know that these “soft skills” are not part of our repertoire until we are exposed to new ideas through education. If we can only base our thinking on our own personal experience, our thinking is limited, and possibly ignorant. The gift of education goes beyond providing the fundamental building blocks of reading, writing, and arithmetic; its greatest offering is the widening of our world, and the ability to empathize with others. Often, this is something we don’t know we’re missing until we’ve found it.