Last night I was part of a webinar designed to explore the purposes of education, sponsored by Nipissing University and Carlo Ricci. At the heart of the webinar were the questions: what do you think the purpose of education is, and are your ideas expressed in the work you are doing, or the learning setting you find yourself in?
The results of the webinar were fascinating. Carlo and I had designed some polls to figure out who our audience was, and why they were there. Then I outlined some current “purposes” most often described in contemporary talk, and how I feel this conversation has been hijacked by a discourse that defines educational purpose almost exclusively as economic and social attainment. Since the early 1980s, I argued, a strong “functionalist” discourse has become preeminent, in which the “real” reason to get educated, and to get kids to do well in school, is to help them become competitors in a fierce, zero sum, sharp-elbowed, global economic environment. School is about building a portfolio of accomplishments that will help you get a great job, learn how to be a valuable corporate citizens, and stabilize our nation state to fight against encroachment from others on an economic battlefield. Education is attainment, and by extension, attainment IS equity. That’s the only REAL reason to do school, implicitly implied in most of the improvement and policy talk. To me, this marginalization of all other educational purposes–the real dissing of other educational purposes–has stripped the discussion of educational meaning to a very flat, very superficial dialog, where larger ideas about the spiritual, emotional and transformative aspects of education get left out.
We polled our participants to ask them which educational purpose they thought was most important, after working through all that. (See the chart below.) While we cautioned them that it was really difficult to choose just one, and that ALL of them are important, we asked them to commit. If you are enrolling your own child in a school, or are a teacher looking for like-minded colleagues to help you grow, or a learner who gets to choose your own educational environment, which “purpose” is most important to you?
79% chose #3.
6% chose #1;
8% chose #2
7% chose #4.
Where do you fit? And what do you make of the fact that so much of the policy and improvement talk is about #1, but so few folks supported it as their chosen educational purpose?
You can see the whole webinar slides here, although they’ve uploaded in a funky way.