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Guest Thinkers

The Purpose of School

I will not reduce public education to an economic institution.

It has become popular over the last few decades with the growth of the 21st

Century Initiative to talk as though school is primarily a preparation for work.

That idea is demeaning and dehumanizing.

When Thomas Jefferson envisioned universal education in America, he saw its

purpose as the equipping of leadership for the nation’s meritocracy. That idea never

really worked because the best and the brightest have generally used their

education to pursue personal goals (often in the business world) instead of in

public service. In America, they have that right. But I point out Jefferson’s

views to show that we seem to have come full circle – from education being about

producing good people who could service society to education being about a

student’s personal preparation for work.

I’ve talked elsewhere

about the purpose of school. Our school system provides a huge number of

safeguards for society – starting with ensuring that all our kids have had the

polio vaccine and been inoculated against measles by the age of four or five.

Having lived in the Third World for a few years, I don’t take that lightly.

The motto of my school is that we are a place committed to creating lifelong

learners. That’s an elementary school motto. And when I look at the

pre-K kids standing in the bus line at the end of the day, I hope that as a

faculty we’ve managed to whet their intellectual appetites that day enough to

make them want more tomorrow.

I hope that when I contribute to a math class for third graders or discuss

figurative language and poetry with fifth graders that I find a way to peak

their curiosity, to help them enjoy learning, and to equip them with the tools

they will need later in life to make learning itself an enjoyable activity.

I’m concerned with the jobs my students get – especially with the jobs my

special education students get. But I’m more concerned with the sort of people

they become. And what of the minimalist approach that looks at children and

teenagers and thinks first (or only) about their place in society’s economy? I

find it insulting to core. It makes me want to heckle public speakers and defend

the values I imbibed as a student of the liberal arts.

What place does the world of work have for Hemingway for the average

American? Is there a reason related to future employment to take kids to the Barter? What happens to Monet and Yo-Yo Ma in a school system

that thinks primarily about your future job?

I’ll leave you with this thought: Education is not the filling of a pail, but

the lighting of a fire. The words belong to William Butler


Greg Cruey, Guest Blogger


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