What Is the Purpose of School Education: Examining Public Schooling

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Understanding the purpose of public school education
  3. Conclusion


What is the purpose of school? In my essay I'll try to answer this question. I think each school level or grade level has different functions that serve a purpose altogether throughout the 12 years of public education. The purpose of school is about preparing individuals to live as members of society. In other words, I feel the role of public schools was to equip students with the skills necessary to be ready for the social life of their community. First off, in terms of education in grades, K through 5 students are introduced to the basic concepts of learning, reading, writing, and math. Also, I do think Elementary Schools starts to instill obedience for other authoritative figures that are not your parents; this continues throughout the students' school years. Eventually, that obedience gets pushed on to adulthood for authorities like police, judges, politicians, or others. In Middle School, group projects or extra curriculum activities that revolve around group performance starts to become a thing. This is also the place that cliques become important; When I was in middle school, I remember you were considered an outcast or made a target if you do not belong to a clique. When you become an adult, much of society put in importance on groups: colleges, jobs, and other social roles. Most of us are told that going to college means that you have better opportunities for the future. In the grade levels between 9 through 12, all grades were used to prepare students for colleges and universities. Grades 9 and 10 was time to build up your GPA: taking AP classes, do sports, or other activities, anything that looks good on your official transcript. Junior is the year of ACT, taking college classes or college prep are also common. Seniors worry about college visits, scholarship, jobs, or just time to reflect. I believe that the purpose of public schools is to prepare students to integrate into society. While parents teach things like right and wrong or life lessons in general; school taught students how to be 'normal.' Things like social cues, wanting to be part of something bigger than yourself, the importance of respecting authorities, and the glorification of striving for higher education came from public schools.

Understanding the purpose of public school education

There will be four sources that will challenge my hypothesis. In the 'Poet of Our Dreams' by David James; James believes that both definitions for what is educated person or education are supposed to be diverse, because each person is different, molded by their personal lives. Goals of education are formulated keeping in view the needs of the situation. Human nature is multisided with multiple needs, which are related to life. The purpose of education should be the full development of the human on this earth. Education correlates to the ideals of life. The physical, mental, emotional and moral union of the person into a total individual is the true key of education. The goal of education is likewise to mold kids into adults, committed to working for the formation of human networks of love, partnership, freedom, justice, and harmony. Students are to be formed just by making them experience the importance of these qualities in the school itself. Educators could accomplish this just by the lived case of their lives showed in many small and significant transactions with students in word and deed; James sees these perspectives as legitimate. In terms of the educated people, James believes that these are the 'poet of their dreams.' This phrase is discussing that each student should continuously strive to imagine, only then will they be able to seek one's meaning and purpose. They are becoming a complete person in adulthood.

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Another possible challenge is that the purpose of public education is to give a diverse educational experience, a place to meet the needs of students to have a meaningful life. 'The House of Tomorrow' by Margaret L. McNay. McNay believes that for children to be ready for the future, they have to have an education that tailors to all possibilities of life. This evident by her stating, 'The most practical education for a future we cannot describe must surely be one that opens to children different ways of knowing.' The purpose of education, according to the theory of education is to produce functioning members of society. Doing that means setting students on a very narrow path, on what educators think is going to be necessary for the students' future. Moreover, since they are only looking at the essentialist traditions of education, the results are less educated adults, with little knowledge on how to have a meaningful life. Essentialist tradition is four points that preserved a way of life through citizenship and career education: Theory of Knowledge, Values, Curricular Content, and Theory of Education. She believes this tradition only express concerns about preparing students the success of adult life with the present condition, and not wondering if the future was going to change that. The future is unknown so, students' education needs to support different meaning and ways of knowing, and students need to have a more balanced education. Science and technology are essential, but history, arts, philosophies, and humanities have their place as well. Going into details with this, McNay pointing to a quote by Khalil Gibran,' You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For lives goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.'

The third source challenging my hypothesis is using community development in public schools to students' benefit education. James F. Clatworthy in 'The Future of Public K -12 Education' believes community development can help with the national curriculum; even implying that it should be the purpose of public education quoting, 'The purpose of a national curriculum is clear. If it is national, it needs to promote a purpose beneficial to every state and be free of political bias. Community development serves that purpose.' Due to a combination of the administrators giving ineffective assessments and students with a lower socioeconomic status, that fails to meet proficiency standards. That statement evidenced by the quote, 'The state by state assessment measures across the U.S. based on a core curriculum which reflects standards developed by adults assuming they know what students should know.' Clatworthy also stated, ' yet there are a significant number of students who fail to meet the cut score for a specified level of proficiency. A majority of these students are from the group euphemistically called ‘free and reduced lunch' (FRL) students'. He thinks if the true purpose of public education is community development then things like using socioeconomic status for inequality of education of the is a violation of students' rights. he quotes the 14th Amendment's second sentence, 'No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.'

For the last source to oppose my hypothesis is that public schools are built on brainwashing the masses, turning them into consumers. In the 'Notebook: School Bells' by Lewis H. Lapham, he believes the purpose of public schools is to dumb down the populace, to keep up with the status quo for the ones in power. Which is evidenced by stating, 'The schools as presently constituted serve the interests of a society content to define education as a means of indoctrination and a way of teaching people to know their place.' And the reason for this is higher society are comfortable in keeping the citizens ignorant, Lapham argues that both mainstream politicians pay only lip service to improve education stating, 'If either presidential candidate were to make the make the mistake of exposing the educational system to the rigors of 'revolutionary change,' who would thank him for his trouble?'. The ones that have influences or power over the country do not want the lower classes to rise. The contents of the article have far-reaching and thought-provoking implications. Much of his argument rests on the nearly certain belief that if as a nation, devoutly wished to reform or even revolutionize the educational system in place, he thinks they undoubtedly could. Factual proof of this is found throughout the history of the United States. Society has made noteworthy scientific and societal advances in the last one hundred years as proven by computers, the cars, the social liberties development; the list goes on. With such extraordinary financial and intellectual assets as can be found in this nation, why not include another significant contribution to our success?


The purpose of public education is to turn students into functioning members of society. Each school type (elementary, junior high, and high schools) set a different goal towards that purpose. Elementary schools teach obedience, even having my own opinions in certain situations will be discouraged; I was even threatened to be held back a grade. Instilling this practice will continue into adult life. Junior high gives the importance of group activities revolving around group performance. Group activities or extracurricular activities like sports teaches that working towards a goal that serves the group is accepted. Having cliques seems to support this, being a loner result in bullying. High School is nothing more than to prepare for college; which is evidenced by AP classes, college prep classes, ACT, scholarships information, and university visit. Striving for higher education being constantly said throughout the four years, I will even say that college and universities are weaving through the best students for sports and academic achievement. In the 12 years of public education, students learn many things in school, but the most subtle teaching is this social-like blueprint that taught students to be good citizens of society. 

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