What is the purpose of education?
In the realm of public schools, this question is constantly debated … yet in private academic settings (military academies, art institutes, fundamental religious schools, etc.) this same question is rarely pondered.
Why is this?
Well, as you might have guessed, these latter institutions embody an unambiguous function; the specific types of human beings they are meant to forge is never in doubt.
Educators in these schools almost certainly debate pedagogical strategies … but with a clear foundational purpose upon which to base their decisions, these debates generally take on the flavor of incremental experimentation rather than a full-fledged revolution.
So then, what is the specific purpose of public education?
Paraphrasing educator Neil Postman, public schools do not exist to serve a public; they exist to create a public.
Importantly, the answer to what kind of public they are creating won’t be found in the teaching methods employed, the homework assigned, or the uniforms worn -- it will be found in the fundamental story used (knowingly or unknowingly) to imbue the entire endeavor with meaning.
In other words, the function of public education is defined by the prevailing Narrative that it serves.
In this case, I don’t mean a lower-case n narrative that takes the form of a vision statement or motto; I mean an upper-case N Narrative that takes the form of an all-encompassing worldview.
Think Catholicism, Marxism, or Evolutionary Psychology -- these Narratives do not merely enlighten; they supply the very meaning that sustains, guides, and propels their adherents forward.
In my newest From Theory to Practice video, I discuss a paper that can help us better appreciate this vital issue:
Good Education in the Age of Measurement (Gert Biesta)
Here are some of the questions I tackle in this installment: