Schools Do Not Exist Just to Educate

What is the purpose of school?  This is a question that seems simple on the surface, virtually unnecessary to ask.  However, a deeper delve into this question reveals that the answer is not so unambiguous.

Bucknell’s stated goal is to provide “the premier undergraduate experience in America.”  My high school claims to be “committed to educational excellence and dedicated to developing in each student a love of learning” and encouraging “curiosity, creativity, and respect for intellectual effort.”  Both of these, as well as most other educational institutions missions, boil down to providing a superior educational experience.

Beyond instilling knowledge in students, schools serve many other purposes.  These operative, but unofficial, goals affect the behavior of educational institutions according to natural system theorists who believe in coal complexity.  In addition to stated goals, there are also many other real, or actual, goals.  A blog post examines this very issue and brings up many of the unstated purposes of schools.

According to many, one of the most important purposes of schools is to give children something to do while their parents or guardians work.  Others claim that schools need to teach children to eat healthily, whereas still others claim that attending school is necessary to learn social skills.  The last purpose of schools stated on the blog list is “Make sure the sports teams have enough players,” a goal vastly different from providing a superior education.

A recent article detailing a fatal shooting on a school premise implies that schools should be held accountable for the safety of their students.  The mayor laments the horrible nature of the event, but obviously thinks he is under scrutiny to prove the safety of the area schools, remarking, “our schools are safe.”

Beyond divergence from the professed goal of schools, these additional purposes provide glimpses into the expectations of educators that extend beyond their explicit job duties.  Officially, educators are responsible for teaching students.  However, the culture of schools has become such that they are now expected to do much more as well.

Goal complexity is abundant at educational institutions. Likely because they are where young people, who are rapidly growing and developing, spend the majority of their time, the burden of many tasks has been placed on schools.  As a result, the task of educating students, their professed goal, is supplemented by many additional goals.  What do you think schools should be responsible for doing?  If a school provides a superior education, but does nothing else, has it failed?

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8 Responses

  1. I do think that schools have failed if they exclusively provide a superior education. While schools are responsible for giving knowledge to their students, I also think they have a responsibility to educate outside of the core curriculum. For instance, the first goal Seth Godin listed was “to become a become citizen”. Who is responsible for teaching the future generation to become valuable citizens if not the schools? Can parents be depended upon to take on this task?

    • Kelly, I agree with you that schools have not done their job if they solely provide a superior education. I still wonder though if it is the task of schools to teach young individuals to become valuable citizens. Why is this not the job of parents? I can see both sides of the issue, but I tend to think that it is the job of parents to raise good citizens, but that it should be supported by schools because the children spend a large portion of their time there.

  2. I found your blog post while searching Google. Very informative, especially since this is not an issue a lot of people are familiar with…

    • Thanks! Be sure to check out the other posts on this blog. My classmates have written about a myriad of issues, many of which are interesting and about rarely discussed topics.

  3. I think this is a very interesting issue because it raises the argument of the role of the school versus the role of the family. Some will advocate that schools are solely responsible for providing an education and nothing more and that parents are responsible for teaching their children about social skills, manners and eating healthy. Others will argue that the schools are responsible for teaching life skills, in addition to providing an education. According to dictionary.com the definition for a school is “a regular course of meetings of a teacher or teachers and students for instruction; program of instruction.” But what does the word “instruction” encompass? I personally feel that schools should teach children how to become well-rounded individuals. This involves exposing children to education, extra-curricular activities and athletics. The responsibility of families can overlap with the goals of educational institutions, but families are largely responsible for teaching their children about values. In conclusion, I agree with Brooke that goal complexity is abundant at educational institutions and I think that schools should encompass these additional responsibilities in order to produce well-rounded, intellectual students.

    • Great viewpoint on this issue, Molly. It is interesting to see how a school is defined. You are correct though that it does not solve much, as the word “instruction” is very ambiguous and broad.

      I like your take that families are responsible for teaching values. Is it perhaps that families instill these values and school offer a venue to put them into practice in many different manners (coursework, sports, clubs, etc.)?

  4. What do you think about homeschooling? I would be interested to see how much life is different without the whole school experience. I feel there is strong social benefit to public schooling and skills necessary to function as a adult are only learned through interaction with people your own age. I feel homeschooling might hinder a persons communication skills.

    • I had not thought about homeschooling, but I would agree with you that individuals who do not attend formal educational institutios have less opportunities to develop interpersonal and social skills. One of my friends was homeschooled until high school and such skills were not noticeably lacking with her, but I would attribute a large part of that to her being involved in a group of homeschooled students (she became friends with many other homeschooled students and had ample opportunities to socialize with them). The noticeable difference was that she was not as used to group work as were my classmates who were accustomed to traditional schooling. It seems that by looking at homeschooling and the differences in these children we may be able to pinpoint what exactly a school offers to children beyond an education. Thanks for this valuable insight, Ross.

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