Tuesday, February 02, 2021

1889 Institute: Is Education the primary mission of public schools anymore?

Is Education the Primary Mission of Public Schools?
By Tyler Williamson

Did you know the state of Oklahoma is experiencing not one, but two pandemics? Back in July, according to the Oklahoma City School District, the state was experiencing the “dual pandemics of COVID-19 and Systemic Racism.” Instead of preparing teachers for the realities of the fall semester, the district decided to spend valuable time and resources to ensure their teachers learned how to “practice alternative ways of relating to…[their]students.”

To date, the fall semester has been a roller coaster ride with only marginal amounts of student learning. Faced with the reality that if any real learning standards were enforced, many students would be held back a grade, teachers are asked to reduce their grading standards and give participation grades.

But, is education even a primary goal of public schools anymore? Evidence from the Oklahoma City School District says no, but this isn’t just a local phenomenon. A July 23rd feature article in the New York Times by Sarah Darville, the managing editor at Chalkbeat (a non-profit news outlet focused on education), discussed the difficulty of reopening schools. She spent the bulk of the article discussing three things that make the decision difficult: child care, meal programs, and mental health counseling. Where is education?

Darville’s article is meant to show just how essential schools have become, but it unknowingly highlights the issue with public “education” in the United States today: educating children is no longer a primary goal. Other services such as childcare, meals, and mental health counseling have taken its place. These services might need to be provided to some degree in some context, but it’s no surprise that with so many missions on their plate, the ostensible primary mission of schools has been crowded out. Schools simply don’t do education very well.

This quote from the article emphasizes the point: “If taking on the child care, food and the mental health challenges facing American children this fall were not enough, there is also, of course, the matter of making sure those children learn.” This comes three quarters of the way through an extensive article. The fact that the discussion about educating children is tacked onto the back end of the article, almost as an afterthought, shows just what has been prioritized in public education, and it’s not education. Whether you think those programs are good, bad, or you are indifferent to them, the fact remains that they should not overshadow education as the primary goal.

It is clear that schools no longer exist primarily to educate students. Parents who wish to see their children educated and prepared for the future should be pushing for alternatives to the traditional public schools, like charter schools. Quality teachers should do the same and demand the ability to start their own publicly-funded schools.


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