Which school do you want to support?
By age five or six, American children begin their formal education. The process consumes a huge fraction of their waking hours through adulthood. Taxpayers commit enormous sums to support this system. Families organize their lives around the bell schedule. Why do we do it?
At an individual level, of course, the "why" of education is almost meaningless. School is compulsory. It's what we're expected to do! Also, education is the only path to a job that pays a living wage. (Remember the old saying: "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!")
The remarkable, revolutionary idea behind universal public education is that all young people are worth investing in.
At a societal level, the remarkable, revolutionary idea behind universal public education is that all young people are worth investing in, for reasons that are both philosophical and practical. We have a shared stake in an educated society and an educated electorate. Our society values the individualistic ideal that a person's place in the pecking order should be earned rather than inherited. Everyone should have a shot.
The public education system, even with its flaws, is our biggest collective investment in our society. It is crucially important for public health, through universal vaccination. It is an expression of our belief in social mobility, and in the potential of each person to contribute something to this world we share. It is essential to the social commitment to preserve a survivable planet.
If that doesn't move you, most folks agree that they would rather pay for schools than for jails or soup kitchens.
Since the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded all of us that schools also play an important role for adults. It's hard to work when the kids aren't in school, right?
The high level goals are easiest to agree on: we all want our children to emerge from their school years healthy, prepared for college, work, and citizenship.
Bill Honig, a former Califonia Superintendent of Public Instruction and founder of the Consortium of Reading Excellence (CORE), suggests that public education has three purposes: job preparation, active civic participation, and leading a full life. A 2016 poll found that 45% of Americans think the main purpose of education is preparing students academically, 25% believe it is preparing them for work, and 26% believe it is preparing them to be good citizens.
As a whole, we want schools to help our children realize their potential. We expect students to be armed with certain fundamental skills such as literacy and numeracy.
Beyond the practical matters, however, we also expect schools to help transform children into adaptable, decent, and broadly capable adults. Things can change. In an evolving society and a rapidly evolving job market, we cannot pretend to know exactly what skills a child really needs.
This idea is far from new. The headmaster of Eton school, William Johnson Cory, explained his views on the matter in 1861. Imagine the passage below being read by Albus Dumbledore…
"At school you are not engaged so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism..."
At school you are not engaged so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism... you go to...school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment's notice, a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time; for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage and mental soberness.
— William Johnson Cory, Headmaster at Eton, 1861
This lesson concludes the introductory chapter of Ed100. The core lessons of Ed100 are organized into ten chapters with a big picture in mind: "Education is Students and Teachers Spending Time in Places for Learning with the Right Stuff in a System with Resources for Success. So Now What?"
We have created many resources to help leaders make use of Ed100 — have a look at our toolbox!
The next lesson will shift the focus to students.
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