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College and Career Readiness: What’s the Purpose of School?

Jordan Catapano

Amidst the firestorm decrying the current state of American education, one question has steadily been rising from various corners of the nation: What is the purpose of school?

The question seems simple enough, but the answers may seem just as widespread as the techniques we use in the classroom everyday. Here are a few responses—which ones do you see as relevant?

To Become an Informed Citizen

Thomas Jefferson would have endorsed this answer—an informed citizenry, he argued, is the only way to ensure the protection of a democratic state. School should provide the groundwork for young minds to become informed and form their own opinions.

To Possess the Basics for College and Career Readiness

The “career readiness” in the phrase “college and career readiness” seems to indicate that by the time a student graduates high school, they are prepared with the essential skills to be a productive worker. Yet at the same time, schools are supposed to prepare students for higher education—an objective that certainly requires different tasks than the former. Although our education system may cater more heavily to one than the other, it’s important to equip our children adequately for college and career readiness —whichever path they may decide to pursue.

To Prepare Students to Acquire Knowledge Independently

While school teaches fundamentals, what it’s really designed to do, is help students become fully independent thinkers that can seek out knowledge beyond the four walls.

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To Promote Student Efficacy

With instruction moving heavily toward student-centeredness, school should emphasize the importance of following your dreams and learning at your own style and pace. This, to a large degree, contradicts the idea of standardization, but it increases student competency at the tasks and career pathway they ultimately want to pursue.

To Keep Students Out of Trouble

School exists as a platform whereby children can learn about right and wrong, embrace different perspectives, and steer clear from harmful distractions. In addition to the regular curricula, young minds can become educated about conflict resolution and ethics—tools they need well into their adult life (some of which they may not be receiving at home).

To Build a Social Commonality

In addition to a uniform curriculum, school helps thread a common culture amongst very diverse groups of students. This isn’t to say that schools homogenize its students. Rather, school works to find connecting points between dissimilarities.

To Teach Children to be Consumers

Schools equip young minds with the ability to not just consume, but also to think critically enough to become discerning, smart shoppers.

To Teach Creativity and Problem Solving

School presents an organized and progressive series of scenarios that require students to think, adapt, create, and solve. It is perhaps best compared to a gym where students exercise their brain muscles in ways they couldn’t otherwise.

To Help Preserve and Progress Civilization

Mankind has learned a lot over the thousands of years of its existence. But everything that we have learned could be forgotten in just a couple generations unless we successfully pass it on.

To Ensure America Stays Competitive Internationally

“Survival of the fittest” dictates that only the strongest and smartest survive when there is competition for resources. And as nice as we try to be, perhaps we can’t ignore the fact that unless we educate our youth, America might struggle remaining among the strongest and smartest.

The list of answers could go on as we examine all the possibilities of school’s purpose. Many of these answers doubtlessly overlap, and others may sound rather preposterous. The perplexing issue, though, is that there are so many answers. Which are the answers that you or your district is concerned about? Which are the answers you apply daily in your classroom?

It is no easy task to answer, “What is school for?” Though we have to admit that it is a question worth thinking about, debating over, and grappling with, especially as we have a vested interest in how we spend our time as teachers and how our generation helps give shape to the next one.

What do you think? What is school for? Tell us which answers you think are best, which are skewed, and what else should be on our list!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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