I have been an educator for about half a century. Why would I bother to read the following article?
Sloan, W. (July, 2012). What is the purpose of education? ASCD Education Update. Retrieved 7/7/2012 from http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/education-update/jul12/vol54/num07/What-Is-the-Purpose-of-Education¢.aspx.
Well, the truth of the matter is that I have my own opinions on the purposes of education, and they often disagree with those of the people I interact with. So, it did not surprise me when I read the first part of the article:
If you were to ask even a relatively small group of teachers, administrators, students, parents, community members, business leaders, and policymakers to address the question of purpose, how difficult do you think it would be to reach a consensus?
You might have better luck asking, "What is the meaning of life?"
I agree with Willona Sloan’s opening statement. However, if it is a correct representation of the world of education, how can a school, school district, state, or nation agree on goals of education and uniform ways to measure achievement of these goals?
Take a very simple example. Surely “we” all agree that students should learn reading, writing, and arithmetic. Hmm. In the U.S., should we insist that this be in the English language?
What about math students who are bilingual and their native language is not English? For most students, we know that math facts and simple arithmetic are learned in an oral manner. Even very good speakers of a second language tend to do arithmetic in their first language (Devlin, 2000). Do we want to insist that all U.S. students learn to do mental arithmetic in English?
Now, continuing with the reading, writing, and arithmetic topic. How well do we want students to learn the 3Rs and how do we provide fair, reliable, and valid measures of student performance?
- For math, what are our goals for mental calculation, paper and pencil calculation, and calculation using a calculator or computer? How about being able to pose or recognize math problems and transfer one’s math school learning to situations both in other school classes and outside of the school? How about lower-order, rote memory learning versus higher-order learning with understanding?
- For reading and writing, what are our goals for: hand printing; cursive writing; writing using a computer with full-sized Qwerty keyboard, spelling checker and grammar checker; writing using a cell phone keypad; writing email; and communication via social networking systems? For reading, what are our goals for knowledge and skill in reading across the various content areas that make up the school curriculum, and for using both hardcopy and computerized information retrieval systems?
- How can we assess the life-long learning skills and habits of mind in the 3Rs that we want students to develop and maintain?
Willona Sloan’s article presents a number of very important ideas that are far broader than the 3Rs. Here is another quote from her article:
In his Harvard Educational Review article, "Social, Emotional, Ethical, and Academic Education: Creating a Climate for Learning, Participation in Democracy, and Well-Being," Cohen looks at the disparity between where we are and where we say we want to go.
"There is a paradox in our preK–12 schools and within teacher education. Parents and teachers want schooling to support children's ability to become lifelong learners who are able to love, work, and act as responsible members of the community. Yet, we have not substantially integrated these values into our schools or into the training we give teachers," Cohen says. [See http://www.schoolclimate.org/climate/documents/policy/cohen-HE-Paper-7-06.pdf for Cohen’s article.]
James Harvey, a senior fellow at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, holds a similar opinion about education's purpose. "K–12 education should prepare students for life—for college, for work, for living within a family and within a community, and for participating effectively in the democratic process," he says.
Although future employment is probably necessary for most young people, K–12 education is more than just job training. "Schools have always been about developing students for life and work—and life is much more than earning a living; it is also living a life," Harvey says. [See http://www.crpe.org/cs/crpe/print/csr_docs/home.htm.]
What You Can Do
You, personally, should have a philosophy of education that includes your thoughts on the purposes of education. You should be aware that some people agree with you and likely there are many others who hold different opinions. Part of your job as a teacher is to help your students understand that there are widely varying opinions on the purposes of education, and that your teaching is strongly influenced by your own personal opinions. This may help you when a student asks, “Why do we have to learn this?”
Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications
You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications. Click here to begin. Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.
Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Readers of this IAE Blog entry may also enjoy the sequence of IAE Newsletters on the topic of Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education. The first of these is The roles of cognitive neuroscience and computer technology. The series began with the February 2012 issue and is available at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html. A book containing this 20-newsletter sequence was published 1 August, 2012. The book is a free download:
Sylwester, R., & Moursund, D. (August 2012). Creating an appropriate 21st century education. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/243-creating-an-appropriate-21st-century-education.html and the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/242-creating-an-appropriate-21st-century-education.html.
Devlin, K. (2000). The math gene: How mathematical thinking evolved and why numbers are like gossip. Basic Books. (See also http://www.stanford.edu/~kdevlin/.)
Sloan, W. (July, 2012). What is the purpose of education? ASCD Education Update. See http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/education-update/jul12/vol54/num07/What-Is-the-Purpose-of-Education¢.aspx.