Saturday, December 6, 2008

What is the purpose of public education?

No, really, I want to know.

I know what I think the purpose should be, but I'm pretty sure that the current system is some sort of purposeless monster stumbling around like a headless chicken while we argue about whether to bring it back to life with electricity, clockwork or good old-fashioned black magic.

(Okay, that was a little grotesque.) It's just that I've become pretty convinced that we can't fix anything until we can agree as a society on what we want our public education system to achieve.

What do you think is our purpose? (Multiple purposes are acceptable, I suppose.)


Bonnie said...

Love your simile—sometimes the truth is grotesque!

The purpose of public education? I believe you summed it up back in November 2007, "...the purpose of public education is to create good citizens, and that in order to create good citizens in this day and age we need to teach our children two main things: information literacy and decision making skills."

I have defined the same two things as essential content knowledge and problem-solving skills.

Here's a link to my contribution to the "What is the purpose of public education?" debate.
Learning to teach

Souly Catholic said...

Schools should be mission driven. I work in a private school and we are pretty clear on our mission. As far as public school's in general I would have to believe the point is to produce competent citizens.

Penelope said...

Well, that's two votes for producing good citizens, yay!

Bonnie--I really like in your post where you pointed out that we don't become teachers because we want to help children perform on a test, but because we want to help them grow as individuals. What can be more deadly to individuality than the standardized assessment system?

Souly-- Not only are public schools unclear on what our mission is, but the people who have power over us often claim to believe that we serve one mission while create laws and policies that serve another. There is an incredible disconnect between what is said about public education and what is done and maybe really believed.

So many school districts have these great sounding mission statements that are really just fluff made up of current buzzwords that doesn't actually affect decisions being made. Nobody puts "our mission is to ensure that enough of our students pass the standardized tests so that we are not labeled as failing" and yet, based on how much time is spent on that, it's the impression you get pretty quickly.

What I'm really saying is that I envy you that clarity, and I think that public education needs to get it back soon.

Tom said...

1. To generate good test scores in order to get our public officials reelected.

2. To ensure the future because the children are the future. WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!

3. To create productive members of soceity who to more than simply take up space.

Priest said...

Well, first of all, the state of the public education system is not a reflection of what we as a society want for the Children. Take a good, hard look at the latest bureaucratic foray into Social Engineering via the public education sector known as No Child Left Behind. This particular piece of rubbish is a continuation of past Worst Practices in which career politicians decided what was best for those in school.

The committee that fostered this abysmal failure on America did not contain so much as ONE frontline in the classroom teacher. See anything wrong with this picture? So before “society” can make any decision whatsoever the “noise to signal” ratio has to be rebalanced and that means the cretins on Capital Hill need to be silenced. I’m wondering, what do you think would be the outcome if a large body of teachers showed up at a session of Congress and announced they were going to make public policy? I mean, after all, politicians lack the formal training and experience to make anything like an informed decision on education matters. Seems turn-a-bout would be fair play, yes?

Mike said...

The purpose of a school should be to provide a education that will help this nation sustain and grow in this century. If you start school this year (2009), you will be working until the year 2060 and you will be living until the year 2099 (or somewhere close to that).

The mission should be the challenge and grow, rather than dumb-down and graduate.

Miss Profe said...

Hi. Just stopped by. Haven't visited in a while. Are you still blogging?

Penelope said...

Hey-- I haven't been blogging here much. It's kind of hard to keep up with all the journaling I have to do for grad school right now and blog, especially since I can't really translate journal entries into blog entries. I have lots I still want to write about, though.

mitchell said...

The purpose of Public education is to create possitive citizens of society. I believe that the most important skills to teach are problem solving and how to get along with others. Because most kids in public schools will not grow up to doctors, teachers, lawyers or anything that requires a higher education I feel that it is important to teach the fundamentals of life to better improve the views on society.

vlorbik said...

as sold: develop talent.
as practiced: divert talent into
socially unproductive trivialities
or prevent its devleopment altogether.
thanks for asking. nice blog.
get back to work.

Kole said...

Public education should prepare students for the world, whether that be working after high school, or moving on to college. And yes, it should make competent citizens, but also competent people. Someone could be an amazing yankee, but still a be a jerk. America's schools should breed kindness, develop character, and administer respect. This is the most important expectation of public education.