What is the Purpose of School? (2023)

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    What is the Purpose of School?

    Jennifer Beasley and Myra Haulmark

    What is the purpose of school? Neil Postman said that “without a purpose, schools are houses of detention, not attention” (1995, p. 7). Most countries have systems of formal education and many of these are compulsory. Although the names of schools differ, most include a primary school for young children and a secondary school for teenagers (Roser & Oritz-Ospina, 2019).

    Objectives and Key Terms

    In this chapter, readers will…

    • Understand the basic purposes of school
    • Describe several different understandings of the concept of “school”
    • Define the nature of school for each level: elementary, middle, and high schools

    Key terms in the chapter are…

      • Compulsory
      • Formal Education
      • Informal Education
      • Vocational

    Defining School

    Before landing upon a definition for school, it is important to delineate the differences between education and schooling.

    Education is a process of learning and growing as one gains understanding about the surrounding world. This is a lifelong process. It is, as John Dewey (1916) put it, a social process – ‘a process of living and not a preparation for future living.’

    Schooling can often look like an institution with a very specific motive – drill learning into people according to some plan often drawn up by others. Paulo Friere (1973) famously called this banking – making deposits of knowledge. This type of “schooling” treats learners like objects.

    Interested in learning more about this? https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/15/01/whats-worth-learning-school

    (Video) What is the Purpose of School?

    What do you think?

    Schooling vs. Education Sort

    Sort the following phrases into the category where it best fits:

    An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

    Schooling Education

    Choices: Rigid, Structured; Facts, information to be absorbed; Life experiences; Personal, individual interests; Stops and starts, finite; May is not all that is learned; Always going on; Can exist without schooling; Can exist without education

    School Culture

    What makes a good school culture? Shafer (2018) noted that it is all about connections. She describes five interwoven elements that support school structure, 1) Fundamental beliefs, 2) Shared values, 3) Norms (how people believe they should act), 4) Patterns and behaviors, and 5) Tangible evidence. To read more about those elements, you can find the article here: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/07/what-makes-good-school-culture

    (Video) What's Education For?

    “In a strong culture, there are many, overlapping, and cohesive interactions among all members of the organization.”
    – Leah Shafer

    Purposes of School

    Is School for Knowledge?

    If asked, most people would say that the purpose of school is to provide knowledge, but the question becomes what knowledge and who should decide. Is learning for the sake of learning what school is about? Learning expands the mind and school is a way for students to be exposed to different ideas and concepts. Knowledge obtained through school can provide students with a sense of personal fulfillment (Education).

    “It seems to me, that education has a two-fold function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is culture. Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.”
    –Martin Luther King Jr (1947)

    It is argued that anything learned in school could be learned on your own (Gatto, 2005). In the modern-day of the Internet and with vast libraries of knowledge available to us, this is very true. There then becomes a problem of motivation. What would make someone want to learn math or science? Does a child just decide someday that they want to learn all about Chemistry? (Postman, 1995) It is not an issue of what information is necessary, but an issue of exposing students to different ideas that they can choose to grow and build on. It is teaching them how to learn. Education should expose students to information and teach them how to think, not tell them what to think. Martin Luther King Jr said, “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction” (1947).

    Is School for Getting a Job?

    Not everyone has the opportunities or wants to go to college. Therefore, the purpose of school must be to give students the skills to get a job. This means that education is a way for anyone to support him or herself and economically contribute to society (Education). Some of these skills are taught in many of the basic classes: reading, writing, and arithmetic. There is also vocational education, which is extremely important to the lives of students who do not enjoy academia. Just because a student does not like school does not mean that the school should ignore them. It is the school’s responsibility to educate all students and prepare them for their future.

    Is School for Socialization?

    It is argued that any of the above items can be learned on your own (Gatto, 2005). As stated earlier, the issue of motivation and outside circumstances does provide a problem with this theory, but what can replace the socialization that a student receives in school?

    “Schooling at its best can be about how to make a life, which is quite different from how to make a living” (Postman, 1995, p. x).

    Einstein said that the school’s responsibility is to educate the individual as a free individual but to also educate them to be part of society (Haselhurst, 2007). Students are around hundreds of people their own age and this teaches them how to act in society and how to communicate. This is helpful no matter what they do with their future and nothing can replace those skills. Being in a school with that many people also exposes the student to people who are different from him or herself and this is extremely helpful in anyone’s development as a human being and a better member of society (Postman, 1995). Professor Nel Noddings said that the school’s aim is “to produce competent, caring, loving, and lovable people” (Kohn, 2004, p.2).

    Types of Schools

    In most states, the school year is 180 days. School days often last a total of six and a half hours. This means that a child may spend more than 1,000 hours in school each year. In elementary school, how are these hours typically spent? In these sections, we will discuss the teacher’s role, what students experience in elementary, middle school, and high school.


    An elementary school is the main point of delivery of primary education for children between 5-11. In elementary school, children are exposed to a broad range of topics and often remain together in one classroom. School districts and the state determine the curriculum, but generally, a student learns basic arithmetic, English proficiency, social studies, science, physical development, and fine arts.

    The Role of the Teacher

    An elementary school teacher is trained with an emphasis on human cognitive and psychological development as well as the principles of curriculum development and instruction. Teachers earn either a Bachelors or Master’s degree in Early Childhood or Elementary Education.

    The public elementary teacher typically instructs between twenty and thirty students of diverse learning needs. These teachers use a variety of ways to teach, with a focus on student engagement (getting a student’s attention).


    What Students Experience

    Originally, an elementary school was synonymous with primary education. Many students prior to World War I did not attend school past Grade 8. Over the past few decades, schools in the USA have seen numbers of high school graduates rise and with it, changes in what students experience in school.

    An elementary school typically contained one-teacher, one-class models, but this has been changing over time. Multi-age programs, where children in different grades share the same classroom and teachers. Another alternative is that children might have a main class and go to another teacher’s room for one subject. This could be called a rotation and it is similar to the concept of teams found in junior high school.

    Middle School

    Watch the following video from the perspective of a middle schooler. What would you point out as part of her environment at school? Is there any evidence of her relationship with what she is learning or her relationship with educators at her school?

    What is the Purpose of School? (2)

    A YouTube element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here: https://uark.pressbooks.pub/introductiontoeducation/?p=65

    High School

    While there is no set standard for an American high school, some generalizations can be made about the majority. Schools are managed by local, elected school districts. Students ages 14-18 participate in four years of school. School years are normally around nine months and are broken up into quarters or semesters. The High School curriculum is defined in terms of Carnegie Units, which approximate 120 class contact hours within a year. No two schools will be the same, and no two students will have the same classes. There are some general core subjects, but electives will vary by school.


    Fill out the following to highlight was is important in each level: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gAAwwsThkvlVNHrYcII_2m5PByo8ggC4JQe6QJy4dYw/edit?usp=sharing


    Watch the following video with this question in mind: According to this author, what do effective schools do differently? Does this align more closely with the notion of “schooling” or “education”?

    What is the Purpose of School? (3)

    A YouTube element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here: https://uark.pressbooks.pub/introductiontoeducation/?p=65

    (Video) Noam Chomsky - The Purpose of Education

    An interactive H5P element has been excluded from this version of the text. You can view it online here:

    Dig Deeper

    The following resources are provided when “digging deeper” into the chapter:

    Roser, Max; Ortiz-Ospina, Esteban (2019). “Primary and Secondary Education”. Our World in Data. Retrieved 24 October 2019.

    Freire, P. (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

    Shafer, L. (2018) https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/07/what-makes-good-school-culture

    Postman, Neil. (1995). The End of Education. New York: Vintage Books.

    Education. (n.d.). Retrieved September 16, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education

    Gatto, John Taylor. (2005) Dumbing us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. (Rev. ed.). Canada: New Society Publishers.

    Haselhurst, Geoff. (2007) Philosophy of Education. Retrieved September 19, 2007 from http://www.spaceandmotion.com/Philosophy-Education.htm

    Hirsch, E.D. Jr. (2006). The Knowledge Deficit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

    King, Martin Luther Jr. (1947). The Purpose of Education. Retrieved September 19, 2007 from http://www.drmartinlutherkingjr.com/thepurposeofeducation.htm

    Kohn, Alfie. (2004). What Does it Mean to be Well Educated? Boston: Beacon Press.

    Modified from:


    (Video) The Importance Of Education - What's The Real Purpose Of Education?


    What are the 4 purposes of schooling? ›

    These four above include implicit assumptions about the aims of school being: 1) academic achievement, social mobility; 2) character/mindset development, math learning; 3) social cohesion, and; 4) social equality.

    What was the original purpose of school? ›

    Rather than every family being individually responsible for education, people soon figured out that it would be easier and more efficient to have a small group of adults teach a larger group of children. In this way, the concept of the school was born.

    What are three purposes for going to school? ›

    Top 10 Reasons: Why Is Education Important?
    • Provides Stability. Education provides stability in life, and it's something that no one can ever take away from you. ...
    • Provides Financial Security. ...
    • Needed For Equality. ...
    • Allows For Self-Dependency. ...
    • Make Your Dreams Come True. ...
    • A Safer World. ...
    • Confidence. ...
    • A Part Of Society.

    What are the benefits of school? ›

    Benefits of Education are Societal and Personal
    • Poverty Reduction.
    • Connecting Across Borders.
    • Sense of Accomplishment.
    • More Productivity.
    • Better Communication.
    • Critical Thinking Skills.
    • Identification of Skills.
    • Greater Sense of Discipline.

    Why do kids go to school? ›

    Not only will you learn subjects but you will also learn new skills, including social skills. The skills and knowledge that you learn at school will help you now and in later life as you start work. Good attendance shows potential employers that you are reliable.

    What is the true meaning of school? ›

    A school is an educational institution designed to provide learning spaces and learning environments for the teaching of students under the direction of teachers. Most countries have systems of formal education, which is sometimes compulsory. In these systems, students progress through a series of schools.

    Why is school mandatory in the US? ›

    Typically, children must start school by the age of six and remain enrolled until they are at least 16. These laws were put in place not only to improve literacy rates but also to discourage the widespread child labor practices of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Who made school a thing and why? ›

    Horace Mann invented school and what is today the United States' modern school system. Horace was born in 1796 in Massachusetts and became the Secretary of Education in Massachusettes where he championed an organized and set curriculum of core knowledge for each student.

    Who invented school Why? ›

    Modern school systems were invented by Horace Mann (1796 – 1859). Horace Mann was an American educational reformer who strongly advocated abolishing slavery. Horace Mann was born in Franklin, Massachusetts.

    How school is important in our life? ›

    Nowadays, school has become the first stepping stone in the life of a child, wherein he/she learns a lot more than just rote learning. Developing hobbies, refining them, learning basic etiquettes, getting skilled at multi tasking, developing social skills are some of the many things that a school equips a child with.

    What is the most important purpose of school? ›

    The main purpose of education is to provide the opportunity for acquiring knowledge and skills that will enable people to develop their full potential, and become successful members of society.

    Why do we go to school for 12 years? ›

    Children weren't needed as much on farms and were too young to work in factories. Plus, they needed advanced education to prepare them for jobs that were more skilled and technological. Over time, public school systems settled into the 13-year course of elementary, middle, and high school that we have today.

    Is school necessary for success? ›

    Education enables us to develop abilities such as time management, interpersonal skills, organizational skills, and so on. Those certainly aid us in our quest for success. Schools develop our knowledge skills, Institutions develop our soft skills, and experiences develop our work skills.

    Why do kids avoid going to school? ›

    It might be linked to anxiety or worries about leaving home, a phobia, learning difficulties, social problems at school, or depression. School refusal might start gradually or happen suddenly. It can happen at the same time as or after: stressful events at home or school or with peers.

    What happens if students don't go to school? ›

    The consequences of too many absences are serious not only for students, but also for parents! Schools handle minor truancy with warning letters, parent-teacher conferences and other means. However, in some states, parents can be fined when their kids miss too much school.

    Why do kids don't want to go to school? ›

    School refusal usually goes along with disorders like separation anxiety, depression or panic disorder. An evaluation from a professional can tell you if your child needs treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are used to treat school refusal.

    What are the 5 functions of a school? ›

    These include (a) socialization, (b) social integration, (c) social placement, and (d) social and cultural innovation. Latent functions include child care, the establishment of peer relationships, and lowering unemployment by keeping high school students out of the full-time labor force.

    What words define school? ›

    synonyms for school
    • academy.
    • department.
    • faculty.
    • hall.
    • institute.
    • institution.
    • seminary.
    • university.

    What year was school invented? ›

    The first separate school was the Nizamiyah school. It was built in 1066 in Baghdad. Children started school from the age of six with free tuition.

    Is going to school necessary? ›

    Learn basic skills

    School provides an environment where we can learn a lot of basic skills. Children as young as three years old are taught how to read and write at their preschools. They start to learn the alphabet, numbers, and even do some simple arithmetic problems.

    Is it illegal to not send your child to school? ›

    By law, all children over five years old must have appropriate full-time education. Since September 2015, all young people must continue in education or training until the end of the academic year in which they turn 18.

    At what age can you leave school? ›

    School leaving age

    Children can leave school on the last Friday in June of the school year in which they reach 16 years of age. They must however do one of the following until they are 18: stay in full-time education, e.g. at a college. start an apprenticeship or traineeship.

    Who was the 1st teacher? ›

    Have you ever wondered, “Who was the first teacher in the world?” It is believed that Confucius became the first teacher in the world. He was a private tutor who gave lessons on history.

    Who was the first person to go to school? ›

    Horace Mann
    Personal details
    BornMay 4, 1796 Franklin, Massachusetts, U.S.
    DiedAugust 2, 1859 (aged 63) Yellow Springs, Ohio, U.S.
    Resting placeNorth Burial Ground, Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
    18 more rows

    Who started school in the world? ›

    Horace Mann is considered as the inventor of the concept of school. He was born in 1796 and later became Secretary of Education in Massachusetts. He was a pioneer in bringing educational reforms into society.

    How can I excuse myself to not go to school? ›

    And now without a further ado, let's see the good excuses not to go to school for strict parents, starting with number 11:
    1. Left your homework/project at home. ...
    2. You had a bad toothache. ...
    3. Found a little animal, and tried to help it. ...
    4. Something bad happened, you were in tears so couldn't go to class.
    Jan 21, 2021

    Who created homework? ›

    Roberto Nevelis of Venice, Italy, is often credited with having invented homework in 1095—or 1905, depending on your sources.

    Who made I Ready Math? ›

    President, Rob Waldron, created the highly recognized blended program, i-Ready®. Made up of two main components—an adaptive diagnostic and instruction that includes both student online and teacher-led instruction and mobile apps, i-Ready provides an engaging and visually appealing approach to learning.

    Does school affect your life? ›

    Schools have an important role to play in helping young people to develop and manage their physical and emotional well-being, and to live and work with others in different contexts.

    Why do you go to school everyday? ›

    Students who frequently attend school feel more connected to their community and develop strong social skills and friendships, which are important life skills. A positive school climate improves academic achievement.

    How does school help a child? ›

    A good education teaches kids to think critically, communicate well, solve problems, and work in a team. It also prepares kids to contribute positively to society as adults by teaching them how important it is to be ethical citizens who care about their communities.

    Why is the 100th day of school a thing? ›

    The 100th day of school is an exciting milestone for every elementary classroom. It signifies both the halfway point of the year and an important time for setting new goals and realigning a fresh outlook.

    Why do we have 100 days of school? ›

    The 100th day is an important milestone because it means students are more than halfway through the year, as most schools have 180 days in their calendar year. It is also a great occasion to highlight how much children have learned since their academic year began.

    Are you too old to go to school? ›

    It is never too late to go to college or benefit from the advantages of a postsecondary degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bachelor's degree-holders earned a median weekly salary of $1,305 in 2020.

    Does grade matter in life? ›

    Good grades can lead to more scholarships

    Student debt can negatively impact a person's future, well into their thirties. Better grades, higher test scores, and involvement in various activities can help a student get more money for college. Grades can also be a factor for consideration in an honor society.

    Is school important for everyone? ›

    Education helps you develop critical skills like decision-making, mental agility, problem-solving, and logical thinking. People face problems in their professional as well as personal lives. In such situations, their ability to make rational and informed decisions comes from how educated and self-aware they are.

    Does going to school matter? ›

    While it depends on who you ask, and the data you crunch, to find an answer about whether a person's chosen school really, truly matters, attending college and earning a degree is generally an achievement that opens new career opportunities and leads to higher lifetime earning potential.

    What is the origin of school? ›

    The educational 'school' comes from the Greek word 'scholē', which means "leisure." The school in "school of fish" comes from Middle Dutch schole and is related to Old English scolu, meaning "multitude" or "school of fish," and to Modern English shoal in the same meaning.

    What was the primary purpose of education in the 1700s? ›

    Answer and Explanation: The purpose of primary education was much as it is today: to teach young people to be productive members of society. However, the major differences were in the types of students who attended and the subjects taught. During the 1700s, almost all pupils were boys whose parents could afford school.

    Was school made for factory workers? ›

    The modern education system was designed to teach future factory workers to be “punctual, docile, and sober” The education system as we know it is only about 200 years old. Before that, formal education was mostly reserved for the elite.

    What is the origin of education? ›

    Education began in prehistory, as adults trained the young in the knowledge and skills deemed necessary in their society. In pre-literate societies, this was achieved orally and through imitation. Story-telling passed knowledge, values, and skills from one generation to the next.

    What would happen if there were no schools? ›

    Children will not maintain their routine. Children will not get holistic development. Children will not have any degree. Children of the same age will have different levels of knowledge in different areas.

    Why were schools created in America? ›

    Democracy and the Origins of Public Schools

    Preparing people for democratic citizenship was a major reason for the creation of public schools. The Founding Fathers maintained that the success of the fragile American democracy would depend on the competency of its citizens.

    When did US education start declining? ›

    In the 1980s, economists puzzled by a decline in the growth of U.S. productivity realized that American schools had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. After rising every year for fifty years, student scores on a variety of achievement tests dropped sharply in 1967. They continued to decline through 1980.

    When did school become mandatory in the US? ›

    Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school laws in 1852. New York followed the next year, and by 1918, all American children were required to attend at least elementary school.

    Who created education? ›

    Known as the “father of American education,” Horace Mann (1796–1859), a major force behind establishing unified school systems, worked to establish a varied curriculum that excluded sectarian instruction.

    Who started making school? ›

    Horace Mann is considered as the inventor of the concept of school. He was born in 1796 and later became Secretary of Education in Massachusetts. He was a pioneer in bringing educational reforms into society.

    Why is our education system broken? ›

    A lack of investment in education and educators is one of the 10 reasons the U.S. education system is failing. Simply put - educators as professionals are undervalued, and by extension, students are missing out on improved educational outcomes, predominantly affecting low-income students.

    Why is education important in life? ›

    If it weren't for education at all levels, you wouldn't be able to read, write, speak, think critically, make informed decisions, know right from wrong, effectively communicate, or understand how the world works.

    Is education really educating us? ›

    True education, which comes with an educated heart and educated mind, helps us to get rid of our prejudices, superstitions, etc, and to be rational human beings. It not only enables us to take in information but also helps in understanding its worth.


    1. What is the purpose of school? A summary.
    (Awareness Module)
    2. Why is School important? Kids learn why school is important
    3. 6 Problems with our School System
    (Next School)
    4. John Taylor Gatto - The Purpose Of Schooling
    (Prince Ea)
    6. A Brief History of the Purpose of School in the United States
    (What is the Purpose of School?)
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