What is the Purpose of Education?

I am sure I could write a much more scholarly post than what I am going to write below.  There is a a lot of our history I am going to gloss over quickly to get to my reflection so please forgive me now for not properly citing and referencing!

What is the purpose of education?  I mean, really, what is the purpose?  And I should probably be more specific here. What is the purpose of schooling, for we know that schooling and education are two different things.

Our history has shown us that our American public schools focused on the assimilation (and I am being generous by using that term) of new immigrants and preparing a workforce for the growing American industrialism. These two goals are related, of course, as many of these immigrant students and their families worked in factories.

But, let’s think about now. 2015. What is the purpose of our schools? To prepare kids for college? To prepare them for the work force? Which work force? To prepare them to be citizens? What kind of citizens? To provide an excuse for corporations to make billions off the backs of our students and teaches? Whoops, did I give away how I really feel here?

I am not implying I have an answer for what our national goals are – though I do suspect less-than-honorable motives on the part of many, many corporations right now.  Forgive me for my cynicism but it’s hard to be a public school teacher and not be tormented by the vast amount of money that gets forked over to corporation after corporation in the name of education reform.  But that is for another post another day.

I do know that for me, however, the purpose is to co-create with my students a more tolerant and critical citizenry. To help them build a community and country and world that allows for an honest exchange of ideas and that is reflective and self-critical and focused on lifting everyone up. To change the status quo so that we are not just helping more people find their way into our current structures but that we are changing the structures themselves to be more inclusive and flexible. Yup, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

But how do we do that in our current educational climate that is so test-driven and focused on snapshot data?  Honestly, calling it snapshot data is being overly kind – often times we are basing key educational decisions on a tiny corner of a single snapshot that itself is quite blurry.  How do we focus on being critical when there is a single answer to each question and when the questions themselves are often times not worth asking?  How do we do it when teachers have become so demoralized because they feel that they have to choose between the best interests of their students and meeting school achievement goals so that their schools are not taken over by outsiders? For a more thoughtful reflection on this, please read my friend Jen Orr’s blog on this topic.  Actually, just read all her blog posts.

I don’t have many answers right now.  I know that I focus on those amazing 20 little people that walk into our classroom each day.  That I put them first and assume the best of them.  And their families.  That I help them question and critique their world. That we focus a lot of our reading on asking, “Which voices are heard here? Which voices are silenced? How can we include those voices?”  That I make time for them sharing a new toy or picture (though we never call it Show and Tell because everyone knows that’s just for little kids). That I don’t blame them (or their families) for being poor.  Or speaking another language.  Or having different views than I do.

Do I do this successfully every day?  Nope.  Not even close.  Do I reflect on this every day? Yes.  Always.  And while most days I feel that I am not doing nearly enough, I remember that it is a journey and that I am working with human beings.  And that our lives as human beings are a lifetime of discovery and learning. And that I want my students to walk away with this notion – that learning takes a lifetime, that it is not getting a score on a test or even learning a new skill.  That learning is about using what you know in order to make the world around you a better place.

So, once again, I am sure that this post did not quite match the title – apparently I have to work on the standard that says we have to match headings to the main idea of the topic.  But since I have already told you – though not quite eloquently – that learning takes a lifetime, I hope you will forgive me and allow me to think about this topic more.


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