What Is the Purpose of School?

schoolwork and textbooksWhat is the purpose of school?

Is it to learn? To socialize? To prepare for a career? Is the purpose to fulfill all of the above? As you might imagine, these aren’t simple questions, and plenty of people have plenty of opinions about what school exists to do.

In a 1930 article for the Pictorial Review, Eleanor Roosevelt even asked, “What is the purpose of education? This question agitates scholars, teachers, statesmen, every group, in fact, of thoughtful men and women,” she concluded. In Education Update, cofounder of the National School Climate Center, Jonathan Cohen, notes that “there are many different points of view on this topic.

I think that my view, and most people’s view, is that the purpose of education is to support children in developing the skills, the knowledge, and the dispositions that will allow them to be responsible, contributing members of their community—their democratically-informed community.”

The moral of the story is that today, we aren’t going to answer the question of what school’s function should be, but what we can be concerned with is what that question means in a manufacturing context. With such a desperate shortage of skilled workers, how can we reconcile an educational philosophy with traditional views of education that may be outdated?

Rather than answer the question of what school should be, we can answer the question of what it should not be. Here are two of the traditional conceptions of education that are sometimes detrimental, rather than consistently effective.

The Myth That All Students Should Attend a Four-Year College:

American RadioWorks conducted an interesting study of vocational high schools, certainly worth reading if you have the time. They cover the history of education, but also explore the 21st century stereotype that all high schools should prepare kids for college. “It’s basically a one-size-fits-all model,” says Bill Symonds, former education correspondent for BusinessWeek.

“But it’s not working for most young people. The reality is that by the time they get to their late 20s, only 30% of young people have actually gotten a four-year degree. So you’ve got a paradigm that’s embraced by everybody, but only 30% of people are getting there.” Rather than assuming that all students should follow a specific path of higher education with a stigma upon those who don’t, we’ve lately seen a proliferation of vocational schools, career academies, and technical schools that acknowledge the variety of paths students can, and do, take.

The Myth That You Have to Know What You Want to Do:

Statistics show that most people change careers 5-7 times in their lifetime, which means today’s students will have the opportunity to do so as often if not more. For example, at Minuteman Vocational School, all freshmen take the “Freshman Career Exploratory,” where they spend a few days in each major. School can fill the role of helping students realize that they have a passion for something, rather than pigeonholing them into an environment they do not enjoy.

What other myths exist about education that are harmful to producing skilled workers and students who love their careers? If we missed one, leave a comment in the section below!

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