It’s a great question — and at a whole-school assembly at my son’s school this morning, I heard some of the older children offer their answers in a short video they produced with their teacher.
Now is the point in the story where you’re supposed to hear touching observations that make you feel good about school, and learning, and the innocent beauty of kids. Instead, what I heard over and over from the kids were the three answers that they’d clearly picked up, like osmosis, from the adults:
FOR THE FUTURE!
TO GET JOBS!
TO GET INTO A GOOD COLLEGE!
I felt so depressed as I left. Is this really the best we can do? Is this really the extent to which we understand the purpose of school? Are we even thinking about these things? Is anyone asking why/for what purpose/to what end?
The good news is, we can do a lot better. When people ask us the right questions, we do understand the purpose of school. There is a deeper knowing just waiting to be tapped, and I take hope from thinking of what we can unleash when we do so on a larger scale. In the meantime, however, seeing eight-year-olds describe the purpose of school in purely external terms and accomplishments is enough to make me realize, on a Friday morning, just how much work remains to be done.