Begin With The End: What’s The Purpose Of Schooling?

Michael Horn:

That means, as Stephen Covey wrote in one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” beginning “with the end in mind.” Or, as Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe wrote in the context of education in “Understanding by Design,” good teachers start with the goals and how they would know if students have met them and then backwards map all the things they need to provide to get to those outcomes.

Although it’s unlikely there will be any consensus across all communities in the country around a central purpose, that’s OK. That’s part of a robust pluralism underlying our democracy that values the fact that students sit in different circumstances and will have different needs.

But clarity in any specific schooling community is critical.

To help school communities think through what’s the purpose of schooling, a little history can help, as the dominant policy rationale for public schools’ purpose in society has changed over time. In “Disrupting Class,” Clayton Christensen, Curtis Johnson and I offered a brief history of these shifts.

Through much of the 1800s, a kind reading of history would say that the central role of public schools was to preserve the American democracy and inculcate democratic values.