What's the Purpose of Public Education?
The more we question the effectiveness of our current public education system the more we are led to question what it is we are trying to accomplish. Granted, students should become competent in the basics of reading, writing, math and technology. However, I believe the time has come to redefine broader goals which have previously been addressed as peripheral to the core curriculum. ASCD's Whole Child Initiative has a wonderful framework that should officially become a part of public education world-wide. When I asked a group of teachers, administrators, and parents in Canada what they felt the purpose of public education was, the answers focused on the following:
- give kids the tools they need to be optimistic, responsible, productive and resourceful members of society
- help students to harness their internal resources, identify their own strengths and then make life and career choices that optimize those strengths
- teach our children to understand that everyone, including themselves, is unique and valuable
- teach children to lead and be led by example
- ensure that students are literate, numerate, and can think critically in different contexts
- build students' confidence and perseverance in tackling new problems
- teach students to set short and long-term goals and to pursue those goals tenaciously
- help students to become people who do the right thing, even when no one is looking
- teach students good social values (inclusion of all, justice, love, honesty, hard work, family, right from wrong)
- nurture creative thinkers and life-long learners who are open to new opportunities
Although we know that these are all important, we haven't reached agreement that these must be directly addressed at school. If not there, then where? Many families are not making time to focus on such things. A recent study indicated that young people spend close to 7 hours a day on-line. What are they learning there? Many schools have attempted to address these broader goals through character education programs. Unfortunately, these programs are often treated as being separate from the core curriculum rather than being embedded in the culture and climate of the schools.
It is time to define the place for social/ emotional aspects of student growth and development in a broad-based curriculum. This is the only way to truly maximize student learning. Once these are defined and accepted, all educators must be trained on how to create the necessary safe, caring, positive, supportive learning environments that will create confident, competent, creative, caring students. It can be done. Find out more in my book "REAL LEADERSHIP, REAL CHANGE Moving beyond research and rhetoric to create a new future for public education" available at www.impactleadership.ca.