Learning in Mind

Rethinking the Purpose of Education

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Learning In Mind


n all of the rhetoric—much of it negative—that has surrounded public education in recent decades, there has been little discussion about the purpose of education itself. Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of education is not, nor ever has been, adequately defined. Whether you believe that purpose is to transmit an external body of facts and skills to the next generation, to produce responsible citizens, to prepare students for the world of work, to facilitate the growth and development of each child, or a combination of those and other purposes, it seems obvious that the success of those ventures largely depends on a single process—learning!

Reforming education has become an endless cycle. Reforms focus on what to teach and how to teach it, as well as how to motivate students to become more involved. Grit, mindset, the maker movement, genius hours, SEL, technology—each new reform promises to fix…or at least improve…education. But rarely do reformers begin with the most obvious questions.

Attempting to "fix" a system without first determining what that system is supposed to do is not only a waste of time and resources, but is doomed to failure. In terms of education, it has resulted in trying to force human beings to conform to an externally designed process that is largely inconsistent with authentic learning. If learning is the goal, doesn't it make more sense to design a system that facilitates the innate and natural process of learning? A system that would provide appropriate learning environments for as many children as possible?

The goal of this website is to begin with those questions, as well as many related questions about topics such as standards, assessment, the historical foundations of public education, and the paradigm that currently drives public education. Each question will be explored in depth. We will examine multiple approaches, comparing and contrasting their advantages and disadvantages. In doing so, we hope to build a better understanding of the nature of learning and how public education can work with, rather than against, the innate curiosity and love of learning with which all children enter the world.

Because the topic of education is so complex, and dependent on so many different factors, you may find the same ideas mentioned in several articles, albeit with a different focus. Most of the articles have multiple links to other articles to make it easier to pursue your specific interest.

Beyond what the "experts" have to say, I would ask you to consider your own learning. What are your areas of strength? Do you have any areas in which you aren't as proficient? How do you prefer to learn? Is that true in all contexts? Do some things take you longer to learn than others? What role does your interest play in any perceived strengths and weaknesses? Accessing your own experience can often give you a greater understanding of an issue than anything you read or are told.

For a better sense of the questions we are asking, you may wish to begin with this article. Welcome to an inquiry approach to learning and the purpose of education!

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