What is the purpose of education? It is usually assumed that the major purpose of education is instruction: the transmission of information and the imparting of particular skills like the classic three R’s: ‘readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic’.

But instruction is the least important part of education. Most information is accessible from books and the media. Basic literacy and numeracy are important, but many if not most skills used by adults in daily life are picked up on the job. The main objective of education in every enduring society is to transmit authoritative cultural, political, and ethical traditions from one generation to the next. We can speak of the major purposes of education as the Four I’s: Initiation, Indoctrination, Inculcation, and Instruction.

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Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.