Why Is School So Important?

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.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted November 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    It’s a good question and reminded me of that famous Ken Robinson TED talk where he says that right now, it’s as if the purpose of school is to put you on a path which if you don’t drop off it you eventually get to be a university professor. So sad and worrying to miss the obvious opportunity to enjoy, be stimulated and happy while actually there.

  2. Posted November 30, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    What types of answers did you want to hear?

  3. Posted November 30, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    If we want to make kids aware of the purpose of school, we should orient them to its internal values — self-knowledge, discovering one’s passion, finding a calling, etc. All of these answers are external values, and though each is right in its own way — you need a job, college is good, etc. — they are hollow shells absent a deeper understanding of the WHY. Does that makes sense?

  4. Posted December 1, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Yes, students are to reach high levels within the affective domain in their development as learners, but there is also the cognitive domain which schools must access as well. This domain produces results that bring the good jobs and entry to college. Such results most certainly are the more appealing aspects of education and yes, it is easy to get too focused on them alone. However, when I asked what answers you’d like to hear from an 8 year old that is better than the response “For the future,” what other response could be more positive than that? A student realizing that education is necessary for the betterment of his or her own future is internalizing already from what I can understand. Now, I acknowledge point greatly and am very adamant for your cause, but if the communication of an 8 year old foreshadowing the importance of education in such a way emulates that from an empty shell, I really would like to know what you would expect else to hear.
    It is my approach for practical, positive ways to improve the educational institution. I consistently hear the negative examples of whats wrong and how this or that is bad. I deeply feel that this needs to be changed by our leaders. We need practical ways of developing our thoughts and improving our actions today.

  5. Posted December 6, 2012 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this conversation. I just want to contribute this short video of our students answering the question, “Does it matter if your teacher cares about you?” Enjoy! http://youtu.be/sqhLSX7k3Oc

  6. Posted December 6, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing, Bobbi! Great video.

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