The Purpose of Education, part 2

A fair number of folks responded to me personally and provided a diverse wealth of perspectives on this question. I proactively ask your forgiveness for not mentioning all the nuances here. 🙂

Aside from posing the question here, I also asked Dr. Wiegand, the Board, the Regional Superintendent Jane Quinlan, State Superintendent Chris Koch (pronounced “Cook”) and had a lovely chat with Dr. Lynda Vaughn of the Public School Recognition Division of the ISBE General Counsel. I dug around in the Illinois Compiled Statues section 105 (ILCS 105 – School Code) and Article X of the Illinois State Constitution. The latter led me to do some googling about the nation’s Constitution and found some rather intriguing websites pontificating on the sorry state of how we citizens have given away too much power to the government (1, 2, 3).

I initially had this desire to get a reading on the general feel for why we send our kids to school. My exploration has led me on a journey across many landscapes; and I do not think I have reached the end, yet. But let us get back to the basic question. Why do you send your child to school? We all assume this is a no-brainer. “Well, duh! So they can learn stuff” I could even project this out to any kind of school including those who homeschool. We all think that a child should go to school. But when I start to examine the root reasons behind that motivation, I start to find a wide variety of opinions, theories, conjecture, beliefs and goals.

And right now, I don’t have the means to put a finger on what the purpose of education really is. But allow me to convey a little of what I have found.

Several of you gave me a lot of reading (thanks!  😐 ). You also provided a large number of example Mission Statements and examples of how various schools around town and around the nation do things. But what I have read, observed and contemplated has led me to two general conclusions about Education.

  • There is a wider, more global aspect of “teaching” and “education”. This large lens includes things like teaching one another how to interact in relational settings, how to gain the mental, emotional and intellectual tools to conquer the challenges of life, how to learn from mistakes and seek the wisdom to avoid pain in the future while at the same time acquiring the discipline and rationality of limiting hedonistic pleasure. Basically, this type of education provides the framework of how to have a good life. One might even say that a true education is the pursuit of the best life that is possible. (and how that is defined is a completely different ball of wax, my friend)
    • A common subset is a focus on productivity and personal sustainability. Ie, going to college, getting a job, making money. This seems to be the pervasive message from DC; let’s push all our kids so they can get busy being hamsters in a wheel. Economically it makes a ton of sense. But at what cost?
    • Another subset is that of preparing, teaching, tapping into the whole potential of a child (or anything “whole child“). To be the best they can possibly be.
    • And finally, a small but slowly growing emphasis on social justice, of looking out not only for one’s own best, but also for the best of others as well.

What is interesting to me is how we gauge progress. Right now we have a thing called academic standards, which are not really true standards at all, but they give us a more-or-less common denominator to weigh things. This is most practical, I think, in terms of the first sub-goal, that of rating schools by graduation numbers and seeing how productive the alumni are ($$). A negative measure is how many folks end up in the mislabeled correctional system (where instead of “correcting” one’s education, the system most often enhances and reinforces bad habits – <sarcasm>what an awesome idea!</sarcasm>).

As I was talking to Jane Quinlan and Dr. Vaughn this afternoon, it dawned on me that the government is exerting more and more control on curriculum. In light of “Not yours to give” linked above, it feels like Big Brother (via NCLB) is holding out the carrot of funding for the bait-and-switch of dictating what we teach in schools (curious how this will change with Common Core). This bothers me. From what I read in the US Constitution, the whole idea of Education being completely absent from that document is that this is supposed to be a local concern with a local solution. I don’t mind that schools are more or less dependent on local funding (ie, property taxes), but I am very concerned that we have so little say in how those dollars are spent – us taxpayers do not dictate curriculum. Sure, we can vote on referedums for big money purchases (ie, buildings and such), but when is the last time the community had a voice in what was taught in the schools?

Yes, I realize the chaos that would ensue if we totally and utterly unshackled ourselves in this way from a government that has grown laboriously large and has become a “necessary” crutch. I am not suggesting that we immediately rise up and throw off the government. Egads.


I am exploring. I am searching. I am seeking.


Why am I asking so many people this question (“What is the purpose of education?”)? For me, Education sits right atop of the core of life. Perhaps using the word “Education” is a bit of a misnomer once one really looks under the covers of what I am trying to say. I do not mean to invoke the traditional image of a little school child patiently sitting at a small wooden desk as the teacher attempts to transfer knowledge. No. No, not at all. Perhaps a better phrase would simply be “living life”. Modern day schools are merely a formal, structured, formulaic method of imbuing values into the target audience. When I ask people this question and I hear all these fantastic ideas of what they want education to be, I am both saddened that 99% of the time they will not be able to fully realize their goals in our current system, but also very glad they have such high, optimistic goals in the first place.


Here is what I want “education” to be: an environment where Good is taught, Wisdom is imparted, Happiness is pursued and Peace reigns.

Here is the purpose I want for education: To find the Absolute best things


So the next question becomes “What is best?”

And the final question will be “How do we walk towards it?”

6 Responses to “The Purpose of Education, part 2”

  1. pattsi Says:

    How about these–being able to answer Meno’s Dilemma and developing the skills to know how to continue to learn and think outside the box.

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    In the past you have mentioned Hugh Petrie’s work, “The Dilemma of Enquiry and Learning“, which I link here as it relates to your comment.

    As I stated in Part 1, I really love my daughter’s response to this question:

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

    But yes, I totally agree Pattsi. And I think you mean this (if not, please correct me), but the goal is not actually to answer Plato’s Meno’s question, but rather to explore, to search, to grow in one’s own quest. Or if I wanted to exercise a little sophistry, I could say that searching is knowing. And by corollary, knowing is searching. 🙂

  3. pattsi Says:

    Your interpretation is excellent. Just for the fun of challenging–here might be another way of stating it. Plato was musing–how do you know that you don’t know if you don’t know. In other words, how can I make inquiries or enquiries when I don’t know therefore how can I construct questions. I always think of this dilemma as listening and learning, not necessarily in one’s own quest, but to realize one is so far from completely knowing. Philosophical conversations are such fun like arguing just how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. 🙂

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

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

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

    […] 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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