The Purpose of Education: Part 1

I have found myself lately asking what the purpose of education is. I have asked myself this question many times and never really found a satisfactory answer; part of my dilemma is that I cannot answer this question without being influenced by my environment, my upbringing and ultimately, what “smart people” before me have said. Through my many talks with folks around town (and out of town for that matter), I have come to realize there are two very different views on the purpose of education. At least two – there might be more. So this is Part 1, because I am sure I will have more to say as I dig into this question more seriously. But I am putting this out in a public place also to elicit comments and thoughts from others.

On that note, I wonder; “Is there an absolute answer, or are there many correct answers?” No doubt, there are many perspectives. Are they all valid? I tend to believe in Absolutes, FYI. But I am not yet convinced if the purpose of education is absolute or not. Clearly, how education is practiced and the justification for it as nearly as diverse as the stars.

So in my googling, I have two important queries from which I am drawing my internet influence:

The Purpose of Education:,mod=19&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=the+purpose+of+eduation#hl=en&sa=X&ei=8tS4T5OTPMbo6gGgmNnnCg&ved=0CBMQvwUoAQ&q=the+purpose+of+education&spell=1&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=678d7b5b459d50f0&biw=1600&bih=1109

The History of Education:,mod=19&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=the+history+of+education

I tried to choose the top hits without discriminating – for the History, I did discriminate against “American History” as I wanted a wide perspective.

What I found most interesting is that the 5 links I have for the Purpose of Education all make an argument, like Ken Robinson, against the current factory model of the educational system. From a point of observation, it seems to me that the current goal of education in America is two fold, as stated from the White House; to “prepare for global competitiveness” and “putting Americans to work”. That message is clearly echoed in our local school district where we teach to a test (more or less) and try very hard to prepare our children to enter into the workforce (those that are not “certified” often fall through the cracks and end up in jail, creating a never-ending downward spiral). I believe there is good motive in that people who work and make money are seen as “contributing to society”. But I see that as a dangerous trap and I caution us to be careful about the use of the words “contributing” and “society”. If we really wish to go that route, we must then ask “What is Society?” (another google search for that…..)

King (Jr.), Roosevelt, Nomsky and Warlick talk about critical thought and educating folks so that they can function well in a healthy, vibrant community of citizens. For those of you who know me and/or have been reading here for a while, you probably know I align myself easily with these ideas. I have become a big believer in the need to focus on a system that is equitable, avoids marginalization of the lower class(es), allows those who excel to fully pursue their strengths and teaches man to live alongside one another in such a way as to produce trust, understanding and compassion. You might look in the newspaper headlines or catch scenes on local TV about all sorts of crimes, brutalities, accidents and wrongdoing and declare that the system I believe in is impossible. It is very easy to come to that conclusion, I agree. But is it really impossible? Or is it “merely” quite challenging and difficult?

Note that nowhere above did I say we should not have standardized tests (and yes, I still hate them *grin*). I did not say that we should do away with STEM (no love lost there, either).

This is a topic I am struggling with, a mental wrestling match. When I asked my daughter what the purpose of education is, she said:

So kids can have fun learning and learn how to learn.


I dearly hope she can hang on to that over the next few years. Perhaps my job is to help her grip be tenacious, persistent and never-ceasing upon that goal. Maybe.

3 Responses to “The Purpose of Education: Part 1”

  1. charlesdschultz Says:

    My head is going to pop!

    I found Dr. Wiegand’s doctoral thesis and started reading it: “Factors that affect implementation and sustainability of a high school reform effort: a case study“. What is implied by that title, I think, are also the factors that, actively and passively, resist reform. And in fact, have been doing so for the past century at least. I am going to liken the “factory model” used above and made popular by Ken Robinson (I think) to the “comprehensive high school” that Dr. Wiegand speaks of when quoting earlier works. This “comprehensive high school” is the model we have been stuck with “forever”, and many people have tried again and again to alter this model. With little success, obviously.

    I am reminded that no matter how smart I think I am, no matter how novel I think contemporary ideas are, “there is nothing new under the sun”.

    It is interesting that Dr. Wiegand addresses the lack of a clear, focused goal and mission statement within our schools. Yes, we have a Unit 4 mission statement, but each parent bring his/her own expectation and baggage to the table. Passionate and social-capital-rich stakeholders have and continue to exert influence on how the school achieves its mission, or even what the mission is. Even from school to school, there seems to be a lack of single unifying purpose. I wonder if it is with o small irony that she wrote these ideas in 2003, 9 years before becoming the District Superintendent. And I wonder how much she goes back to what she wrote and sees how she is in a very good position to do something about what she wrote.

    Before I even started reading, I recently asked Dr. Wiegand “What is the purpose of education?”. I have asked others as well. The few people I have heard from so far definitely paint an interesting picture. I look forward to hearing what others think.

  2. What are public schools supposed to do? | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] “to make learning fun.” (for more reading, “The purpose of Education” part 1, 2, […]

  3. The Purpose of Education, part 4 | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] previous posts (“What are public schools supposed to do?“, Purpose of Education parts 1, 2, 3), there are many people who try to lay claim to what is important for our students, what they […]

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