What *isn't* the purpose of education?
This week a new education video has been doing the viral rounds. In it rapper Dave Brown offers an angry view of what he sees as the irrelevance of much of what is taught in school. Over on his TES blog Tom Bennett offers a considered response to its utilitarian view of the purpose of school. I agree with much of what he says, and wanted to pull out one particular point he makes briefly.
"A curious assumption appears to underpin this attitude: that everything that ails society could be mended, if only the education system were tinkered with and tuned in just the right way. A drop more Tolpuddle Martyrs, a pinch less Planck. The curious continuation of this philosophy leads us inevitably to the conclusion that we, the schools, the teachers, are the enemies of utopia; we are the barrier to a new Golden Age."
I've thought for some time that one of the reasons debate in education is often so circular is that any discussion can come back to the basic question of what the purpose of it all is. This is all very interesting, and the purpose/ed campaign a few years ago was a fascinating exploration of this. However, it makes it very difficult to get anywhere when you can always bring a discussion back to such a fundamental question.
All too often, as Tom states above, we place the emphasis for fixing all of the problems we see in society with the education system. I don't think we should settle for that. The UK is still a nation of huge inequality, and often 'social mobility' through education is depicted as the way to solve this. Much as it could be a part of the solution, it strikes me that there are a great many factors involved in this.
Placing the emphasis on schools to remedy the unequal distribution of wealth, rather than economic levers such as taxation is unrealistic at best.
For those of us in education, I wonder if it would be helpful to explore another discussion: what isn't the purpose of education?
What is the scope of what the education system does? Learning and education in a perfect world could of course be anything, but if we look at the system of institutions we have, what should be outside of its remit?
Deciding what is out, what we are not doing, and being clear on scope is an angle I rarely see. When I do it's about capacity or workload, not about vision for what we should or should not be doing. Every vision needs its limits, it needs clarity.
What's out of scope? What isn't the purpose of education?
Photo: CC BY US Army