From a natural point of view, the purpose of education is to train the mind, to learn to think, to develop those strengths of character we call virtues, to acquire a social formation, to prepare for life. ‘If then a practical end must be assigned to a University course, I say it is that of training good members of society. Its art is the art of social life, and its end is fitness for the world.’ (Idea of a university)
From a supernatural point of view, the purpose is Christian holiness, to think like the saints: ‘All education should be conducted on this principle – that it is a means towards an end, and that end is Christian holiness’. (‘On some popular mistakes as to the object of education’, sermon preached on 8 January 1826)
The two approaches are not incompatible because, as Newman says, education is to fit us for this world, while preparing us for the next.
[T]he object of education is to write the divine law upon the heart […] to prepare the heart for the gospel of Christ – it is to lead us to correct views of our own state and knowledge of our own hearts – it is to train us and win us over to habits of practical godliness, to accustom us to deny ourselves, to govern our passions, to fix our affections on God, and to trust Him with a humble and implicit faith. (‘On some popular mistakes as to the object of education’, sermon preached on 27 August 1826)
It is ‘an error to suppose that the end of education is merely to fit persons for their respective stations in life’, since in that way ‘education is robbed of its religious character, and made the mere instrument of worldly ambition’. True, education concerns ‘the temporal callings of men, but it does not rest there’. The purpose of education is that people might so fulfil their respective occupations 11. (‘On some popular mistakes as to the object of education’, sermon preached on 27 August 1826)