History and Background on the Purposes of Education

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History and Background on the Purposes of Education

Education in some circles represents the one best hope for millions of young Americans, especially those who classified as minority and underprivileged. However, policymakers and many stakeholders have failed continually to agree on what constitutes quality in schools. There is a lack of consensus about the core purposes of schooling in a world dominated by relativistic values and beliefs.

What are the purposes of schooling?  Some critics, analysts, and theorists have suggested that schools should serve as vehicles for social change, the kind of change that is planned, controlled, and directed toward improving the human condition. Other groups have advocated for schools that focus on achievement (based on a range of definitions). There are some stakeholders who believe schools should help youngsters develop thinking skills, communication acumen, and similar aptitudes.  Another group believes schools should get youngsters ready for work, while their counterparts insist that schools prepare students for college. Another contingent would have schools preserve and transmit “traditional” and societal moral values. Some stakeholders believe the school should be a place that teaches young people how to build and nurture relationships. Frequently, these groups stand in opposition to each other. Infinite variations exist on the themes. In the meantime, a failure to define the purposes of schooling keeps school systems off balance.

The present state of schooling has become one of perpetual motion. The need for change, especially in the urban school context, is ongoing, inevitable and driven by social, political, and economic factors at any given time. The debate among disparate stakeholders rages on in spite of the fact that most of them have not bothered to look long and hard at the big picture. Instead, special interest “marksmen” from outside environments are shooting random arrows at targets blurred by political and fiscal uncertainty. And, in too many cases their solutions miss the intended mark. Until the focus becomes clearer, trying to improve schools from the outside will remain little more than the practice of shooting arrows into the wind and hoping they land somewhere near the stated targets.

In the meantime, the need for systemic change continues. It has become apparent that change affects every aspect of the institutional environment, having the potential to throw off balance the delicate ecology of the school as an organism. Until educational entities have a way of monitoring the ecological impact of change on school outcomes, schools will continue to operate with uncertainty.


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Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A Case Study Approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.


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