Why School?

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Speaking of Twitter, people other than the owner are also posting incredibly stupid opinions on that site. Such as this one about the purpose of school from the Secretary of Education.

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Among the many replies pushing back against that incredibly narrow idea of school existing solely to feed “industry demands”, was one with the link to an excellent blog post from 2016 titled “My Daughter is Not a Widget”.

In it the writer is responding to a similar, and much more blatant, opinion from the then-CEO of Exxon Mobil.1

I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer. What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation. Now is that product in a form that we, the customer, can use it? Or is it defective, and we’re not interested? American schools have got to step up the performance level—or they’re basically turning out defective products that have no future. Unfortunately, the defective products are human beings. So it’s really serious. It’s tragic. But that’s where we find ourselves today.

Unfortunately, none of this is new.

Going back to long before the 1983 report A National at Risk, which framed “failing” schools as a security concern, too many people have bought into the premise that the purpose of “school”, and fundamental learning in general, is to prepare kids for the needs of the economy.

All of this also reminded me of a relevant TED Talk by the late educationalist Ken Robinson. In it he discusses how schools around the world are being “reformed” based around the needs of industrialization, rather than on those of the children themselves.

Ok, I suppose if an industry, or a company like Exxon, really wanted the education system to prepare kids for their work force, they could start their own private/charter schools. Better yet, they could step up and provide meaningful support for the community college system in this country. They certainly generated enough “pandemic profits” to more than cover the costs.

I wonder how many parents would enroll their kids in training for the fossil fuel industry? Maybe the ones who believe climate change is a hoax and that a child entering kindergarten would be assured of a good career in that field starting twenty plus years from now. I would not bet on that happening.

However, the bottom line to this discussion is that K12 school should be about two things.

One, helping students develop the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful and happy at whatever they choose to do after they graduate. Emphasis on “choose”.

And two, providing a variety of experiences – academic, cultural, social, physical – that allow them to discover and explore their interests and talents.

Schools should not just be about college prep. They certainly should not exist to train workers to keep the profits flowing for Exxon and other corporations.

The purpose of school should be 100% for the benefit of kids. And they (and their families) must be the ones who determine what that means. 

The screenshot at the top is from the Ken Robinson presentation mentioned in the post. The title of the post is stolen from a 2012 TED book by Will Richardson. The book seems to have disappeared but his TEDx talk, containing many of the same ideas, is still on YouTube.

1. The article from which the quote was taken appears to have been removed from the Forbes Magazine website. Considering that the speaker went on to be Secretary of Defense in the crapshow administration of the previous president, I can accept that it is presented accurately.

1 Comments Why School?


    My definition of education/school aligns precisely with Sydney J. Harris: “The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one’s mind a pleasant place in which to spend one’s leisure. ” I wonder if that is why I often felt I was working at odds with other leaders in my schools.


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