School & District Management Opinion

What Is the Purpose of Public Education

By Greg Jobin-Leeds — May 30, 2012 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Bryant Muldrew joins us again, and urges us to not forget the fundamental questions of public education -- questions we can often lose sight of in the course of our day-to-day work. -- Greg

Dear Educator,

The future of this country is entrusted in your ability to prepare students for life. The belief that your job is merely to help students obtain an education (signified by receiving a diploma) or get into college is clear proof of a misunderstanding. It is your duty as an educator to raise this question: what is the purpose of the public school system? Raise this question as often as you cross the threshold of a school building. Many do not ponder the purpose of the public education system overlooking that this question lies at the heart of all that is done in school. Teach your students to meditate on this question using you as an example.

The unfortunate reality is that many believe training students in Math, Science, English, and History is what it means to educate. Society is far more complicated than the limited ideas covered in these four subjects.

So then what does “educate” mean? To educate is to prepare and train someone in the necessary skills to have the ability to participate in society as a full citizen. This definition reaches far beyond the scope of the four primary subjects. Education should include thoroughly learning the functions and duties of government, a complete understanding of the constitution and one’s rights, learning how social justice movements change society, how to farm, how to cook, etc. The public school system should exist to prepare young people for life. This is the task of an educator: facilitate the progress of transforming youth into functional independent full citizens.

These ideas are summarized by the National Student Bill of Rights. Leaders in the National Student Bill of Rights movement are advocating for these fundamental rights because we understand that youth must be trained in living versus trained how to make a living.

I hope that you ponder on this question. Regardless of your answer, we face the next logical question: is public education serving its purpose and for whom?


Bryant Muldrew

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Democracy and Education are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educator Stress, Anti-Racism, and Pandemic Response: How You're Feeling
A new nationally representative survey offers key takeaways from teachers, principals, and district leaders.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
2021 BI COVER no text DATA crop
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Download 8 Tips for Building a Digital Learning Plan That Conquers Chaos
Craft flexible strategies, encourage experimentation with new instructional models, and regularly solicit feedback.
1 min read
onsr edtech tips
School & District Management Opinion New Polling Shows the K-12 COVID Fights Aren’t Going Anywhere
Teachers, administrators, and school boards will continue to be squeezed between two angry, distrustful camps when it comes to COVID-19.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty