Friday, October 30, 2015

The Purpose of Education

Tony Wagner, in his book, Most Likely to Succeed, asks the question; “What is the purpose of education?” In reviewing mission statements much like our own, he observed the answer centers around these key priorities:
  •         teach students cognitive and social skills;
  •          prepare students to be responsible, contributing citizens;
  •          build character;
  •          help students in process of self-discovery;
  •          inspire students through the study of humanity’s great works;
  •          prepare students for productive careers.
Most educators like myself consider all of these goals to be important. In Wagner’s research, he has found few schools are operationally clear on their priorities. There has always been more emphasis on cognitive skills which means less on others. High stakes state testing and an over emphasis on accountability has swung the pendulum even further from goals such as building character and self-discovery.  One such example cited by Wagner is a kindergarten that canceled its school play to devote more time to preparing its six-year-old students for college and the workplace.  I have witnessed similar situations in which educators make statements that we cannot go on field trips or provide project based learning experiences until after the SOL tests.

Most school divisions have instructional initiatives similar to ours: extend the rigor of daily classroom instruction and assessments to ensure the incorporation of critical thinking and problem-solving skills and encourage creativity.  When you ask, “how are you accomplishing that and how do you know you are making progress?” Most schools struggle with an answer.  Since many school leaders and educators believe it is impossible to accomplish these other goals and teach the state tested curriculum, our students often do not get the opportunities for self-discovery, problem solving by collaborating with peers, and displaying their creativity within a project or authentic learning experience. 

We need to ask the question, “do we continue to teach to a test or do we teach students how to become life-long learners and teach them skills needed for career and global citizenship?”  As we continue to discuss what we value for our children, I believe this will be an easy answer.  The more difficult discussion will in how to effectively incorporate these skills into the curriculum. I look forward to working with you to provide a quality education for our children that includes all we value.