Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What is the Purpose of Education?

I was asked in class (where I was the student, not the teacher) recently what my thoughts were on the purpose of education.  Specifically, I was asked what I thought the role of education was with respect to any class divisions that may or may not exist in society. 

I approached this answer with what I thought was a crystal clear understanding of what my beliefs were, but as I reflected on this topic I found myself questioning my beliefs.  Internal conflict being what it is, and given that it is also the subject of many a Hollywood blockbuster, I thought I'd share my reflections on this question here.  I hope my reflections don't offend you....please remember....I'm a work in progress!

I believe that I am mostly a structural fundamentalist, but that I can tend to display Marxist elements in my thinking on my more cynical days. At least I hope I am. I hope I'm not a closet conflict theorist masquerading as a consensus theorist.  Maybe I am a post modernist at heart?  Wouldn't that be something if I had completely deceived myself?  Perhaps I already have, given the theoretical babble I just threw out in those last couple of sentences?

To explain, my personal belief is that a fundamental role of education is to prepare our students for success in our society.  This is the structural fundamentalist, or consensus theory, belief.  I see education as playing a significant role in reinforcing the basic fundamentals of society, which are basically well-intentioned.  I think our society is set up to allow for people to succeed in spite of where they begin.

Where I believe we struggle as a system is in identifying the social and political goals of society that we are supposed to prepare our students for. I think we have too broad of a definition re: what our funademental goals of society are.  Based on that, when I see needed change within society stalling, and class divisions being reinforced, it frustrates me. In that situation, I can question the fundamental purpose of our system.

Essentially though, I consider myself an optimist. I think the majority of our societal goals are basically good and I have seen many examples in our modern, western, society of people who have used the knowledge, tools, and opportunities provided by education.  A good success story helps me avoid remaining cynical for too long! I will admit though that we need to do more to identify our priorities as a society so that we can then support that with our education system, but at the heart of it all I do not see conflict theory as the prevailing theory.

As I read description of the different theories, and examples of how some nations structure their education systems to tacitly support class divisions that exist, I did question my beliefs. I wondered about our testing system, and our hidden curricula, and I wondered if I did not know about these 2 theories if my beliefs might reveal a more Marxist predisposition. Perhaps I don't know enough about all of this to fully comprehend all of the information at my disposal? 

Ultimately however, for now, I returned to my belief in the power of our system to prepare and support people to transcend class divisions.  You have to start somewhere, right?  If I am going to facilitate continued improvement of our system, perhaps I should start from a positive position instead of a deficit position.

If you have feelings on this topic, by all means please share them! If you disagree with me, I'd love to hear why.  I'm only of this mind until you convince me otherwise...and constructive discussion is how I learn!


1 comment:

Colport100 said...

An interesting reflective post, which resonates with the Ed.D. work I am currently undertaking. I wish to respond because of this, and also the crucial points you raise. I think the question of a post-modernism curriculum is one that is relevant as the neo-liberal policies and values that have invaded education are starting to be questioned by the educational establishment as a whole.
To me, I imagine a post-modern curriculum as one which is organised through a series of ‘themes’ rather than disciplines, where individual, social, cultural and global issues are addressed. These themes are explored in integrated, student driven activities which embed aspects of language, communication, numeracy, science etc. etc. and also develop the ‘metaknowledge’ learners require beyond the learning arena.
I would have agreed that education serves the purpose of society, but I feel this is more challenging with the advancement of technologies, therefore the role of education has shifted/needs to shift.
Some (including me, to a point) question the motivation behind curriculum/subjects, which can be marked back to the Victorian ages, with questions being raised as to the relevance within education today.
You question of class is very interesting, and has been pivotal within the UK for centuries, and still remains to be the case. I do not feel qualified to comment on the class system in your own location, however it is interesting to note that such divides and issues are more global than I thought.