School: What is it Good for?

One of the curious features about schooling is that there is no explicit consensus about its purpose. Any assertion with regards to function should dramatically affect both the content of what is taught and the structure in terms of how to best instill the things that are taught. For instance, if the purpose of schooling is to promote democratic values and create an educated citizenry, the form and content of imparting knowledge would be quite different than if the mission were to create a skilled workforce.

For the former, education would require imparting knowledge of current events, engaging in active debates on contentious issues while respecting dissent, providing an intensive understanding of the U.S. Constitution and the rights the document hoped to protect, and conveying an understanding of the workings of government and the obligations of citizens. To best impart this knowledge, the learning environment would give students the opportunity to experience and exercise basic civil liberties. For the latter scenario, students would have the opportunity to become apprentices and otherwise engage in real-world scenarios within the work place in order to acquire relevant skills and develop hands-on experience that cannot be replicated abstractly.

The school environment presents an antithesis to both of these scenarios. Students are deprived of virtually all their civil rights and learn so little about their own government that a recent survey of adults revealed that only one-third could name any of the branches of government. Learning skills through active participation is similarly taboo because students are rarely ever allowed to leave the classroom let alone the school grounds. <Read more.>

Via Cevin Soling, Diverse Issues in Higher Education.