The Purposes of Education

In response to several diverse factors, the curriculum in K-12 schools has expanded in recent decades so that it now includes topics such as advanced mathematics including computer programming, a broad survey of the sciences including the social sciences, foreign languages, performing arts, visual arts, physical education, health, and the trades. Despite evidence that experiences in the arts and opportunities for physical activity are associated with higher levels of academic performance, it is not unusual for those activities to be perceived as superfluous to the academic or intellectual purposes of education. Typically threats to cut such programs from the curriculum result in division within a community and heated political debate over the role of diverse experiences in the education of young people.

The debates about the appropriateness of these diverse curricular offerings illustrate the divergent opinions about the purposes of education. These result from differing opinions related to the perceived economic demands and advantages of a diverse curriculum, concerns about the moral or ethical implications of some curriculum, and concerns about the adequacy of the skills students develop in schools. In the United States, also, laws are in place to prevent disadvantaged sub-populations from being discriminated against so as to limit their access to public services. All of these factors complicate the task of reaching consensus on the purpose of school or even defining the essential characteristics of schools with clarity.

In an environment of many and conflicting points of view regarding school expectations, and constantly changing knowledge of the phenomena of human learning, and the changing landscape of technologies appropriate for teachers to use, it is reasonable for school leaders to undertake strategic and logistic planning on a regular basis. These activities are known by names such as action or strategic planning, and the intent of these activities is to promote school organization and pedagogy that results in the purposes of the school being accomplished for the populations it serves.