The Purpose of School

I recently heard an educator tell students “the purpose of high school is to graduate.” Comments like this are like fingernails on the chalkboard to my ears. Our words and actions work to establish and/or reinforce that school is either about compliance or learning. Yes, school is an institution of learning. However, would our students agree? If students were asked questions like “why is this assignment important” or “why is this class important,” what would they say? Would their answers be:
  • So I can make the honor roll?
  • So I can advance to the next grade?
  • So I can get that scholarship?
  • So I can earn incentive money at home?
  • So I can go on the field trip at the end of the year?
  • So I don’t get in trouble?

Each of these answers reflect an attitude of compliance. Many of our students have been conditioned to feel this way about school. 

Often times these incentives or consequences are used in an effort to wield power over students and get them to “work harder” in class. Again, these actions feed the compliance mindset. 

As a teacher, I was guilty of this myself. I’ve recently read books such as The EduProtocol Field Guide and Focus (2nd Edition) which provide simple, applicable strategies to engage students in the learning process all while increasing discussion, debate, reading, writing, creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and more. Students will “work harder” when their work is relevant and engaging. 

It is our responsibility as educators to find ways to engage our students’ minds through relevant and rigorous learning activities. Only when this is a regular occurrence in our classrooms and schools can we begin to shift away from compliance mindsets which hinder learning.

Doug Dunn is superintendent and principal of a small K-8 school in rural, south central Missouri. He can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.