What is School For?

I am an avid Facebook troll. I can easily waste an hour on my Facebook newsfeed and be off on some tangent that was not part of the initial reason I logged into the social media site. In that rare moment between watching food videos and viewing pictures of the neighbor’s new baby, I can find a video that is worth all the time I spent on the site.

“What is school for?” is the question that spoken-word artist Prince Ea asks in his recent video that showed up in my newsfeed.  

I can feel a shift, a change, compared to the education of the past. Can you feel it, too? Here are hints about what needs to change in the way schools educate students.

There are many life skills not taught in school to every student such as completing taxes, balancing a checkbook, applying for a loan, or the process of getting a job. These are really important life tasks, and in some regards, I believe that school is not the only place we learn skills needed for a well-lived life.

If life skills are not a focus of school then “What is school for?”

After graduating from high school and without the structure of the classroom, my son didn’t know how to organize his time. His first year at college was a challenge since he had been told what to do for the past thirteen years. Personally, I feel the shame of not preparing him enough to be a success at college. I know he would like to go back to his studies. He loves learning; however, does the love of learning equate to successfully taking college classes?

Attending college is the focus of the junior year of high school. My son, who is in the 11th grade, will be required this year to attend college fairs and take the ACT in the spring. These are just two of the many required activities. He doesn’t know if he wants to go to college or even why he would want to go to college. Before going to the college fairs, I believe the first step is to support him in focusing on a career path based on his passions, innate gifts, values, and on related information.

If intentionally preparing students for a career is not the focus of school then “What is school for?”

Where have the vocational classes gone for all students? I am able to teach vocational courses, but have not taught in that area because most vocational programs were cut from schools’ curricula. Or how about work-study programs, apprenticeships and on the job training? If these types of programs available to students in schools, then wonderful. Most are not.

We cannot rely on the past economic structure based on manufacturing goods for jobs. Manufacturing companies are relying more on robots to do the work that people used to do. On many customer service calls or chats, I get a computerized person. Even my unsolicited telemarketing calls are not real people anymore.

If teaching trade skills or developing opportunities for students to explore career paths is not the focus of school then “What is school for?”

In their employees, employers are looking for behavioral skills, such as:

  • Ability and willingness to learn new skills
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Interpersonal communication 
  • Ability to analyze and synthesize information

If developing behaviors needed by employers is not the focus of school then “What is school for?”

What I do know for sure is that the education system needs to change for many high school students. We need to make high school meaningful for all students, not just a select few at the top of the class. We need to discover and develop the passions and innate gifts in each and every student. Students need to feel safe, be heard, have choices, and be supported in their learning.

How do we do that?

It all starts with asking the question “What is school for?”

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