What is the Purpose of Public Education?

What is the purpose of public education?

Ultimately, the question that needs to be asked is “What is the purpose or goal of public education?” There are a number of possibilities that exist when answering the question. Some possible responses could include:

1. To educate our children
2. To provide them a safe place while their parents work
3. To groom them into “good workers”

Obviously, option #2 takes us down the path of being “glorified babysitters” and that particular theory has been disproved time and time again. Option #3 is one that holds a large audience and, in particular, the ruling elite subscribe to this idea. It goes something like this:

• Go to school
• Learn to read and learn basic math
• Find a skill
• Work and pay taxes
• Tow the line

That seems easy enough. I can go to school and laboriously work through my 3R’s and then I can go get a job and make money! The next generation can just repeat the same cycle (with maybe a little less money to fund it all). That seems like a fantastic goal for the human race! Let’s become robots! Are you in?

Option #1 (To educate our children) is one that I could possibly buy into if there was a consensus on the meaning of the word “educate”. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines educate in a number of ways including:
1 a : to provide schooling for <chose to educate their children at home>
b : to train by formal instruction and supervised practice especially in a skill, trade, or profession
2 a : to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction
b : to provide with information : inform <educating themselves about changes in the industry>
3 : to persuade or condition to feel, believe, or act in a desired way <educate the public to support our position>


As you can see, each of the definitions above are quite different from one another. So, given that a definition of “educate” is difficult to come by, how do we provide education for our children? It is a very broad term with multitude of possible meanings. Maybe “educate” should be something that encompasses all of the possibilities. Maybe it means that teachers encourage their students to think critically and to consider multiple perspectives. Maybe it means that students learn empathy and develop an understanding of the human race.

The de-funding of education is reaching a critical point. It is a very complex and complicated problem that continues to be clouded by the ever-increasing austerity measures derived by the government. Saying that “there is no room in the budget” does not fly with me. There is always room. It comes back to the question: What is the purpose of public education? As a society, we need to determine our own priorities. Where does education fall on that list of priorities? If education and healthcare are not at the very top, then we need to seriously take a hard look at what our values are. Education in British Columbia is at a tipping point with teachers desperately trying to promote the value of a quality education while the government, sadly, continues to de-fund and de-value the backbone of our society. If we lose the ability to think critically, to question, to empathize, to show compassion, to express ourselves, then we, as a society, fail not only ourselves, but the generations to come. Is this a battle worth fighting? I say yes.


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7 responses to “What is the Purpose of Public Education?”

  1. List of X says :

    Up to the last paragraph, I was sure you were talking about the USA education. 🙂

  2. Barneysday says :

    We are systematically destroying our education system by pulling money out of education funds. There is a two tier system beginning, much like it was at the turn of the 20th century, those who have go to private schools and those who don’t, as Newt Gingrich suggested in his campaign, go to the factories at 9 or 10. You are right, there is always money, and our pols, in both countries, are merely pandering to the rich by implementing such austerity programs.

    Great post

    • thejumbledmind says :

      You are exactly right. As income inequality gap widens it will only get worse. Having moved from the U.S. to Canada I am often asked about the state of education in the U.S. and I am seeing more and more parallels between the two systems. Sad…

      Thanks for commenting!!

  3. katrinataylor44 says :

    The original purpose of our educational system was to make more obedient cogs for the machine. Though there are many innovative programs being developed, there are fanatics that want to take us back to the stone age. The Texas state school board has gained major influence over the content of textbooks for the entire nation and that poses a huge problem, imo

    Thanks for the post, JB 🙂


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