Why do we have public schools?

Recently in Forbes, John Merrow wrote an interesting piece on the purpose of public schooling. Excerpts appear below:

Why do we have public schools? Prior to the pervasive growth and ubiquity of the internet, it was easy to answer that question because a school’s objectives were clear and rarely questioned: 1) teach, 2) socialize, and 3) provide custodial care.  Today, two of the three do not apply, and that means big trouble. Let me address them in order.

Providing access to knowledge is one of three historical justifications for schools. Basically, parents had to send their children to schools because the knowledge was stored there, in textbooks and in the heads of teachers. However, today’s young people swim in a sea of information, 24/7.  Of course, children need teachers to help them learn to read and master numbers, but, beyond that, a new approach is required. Young people must learn how to deal with the flood of information that surrounds them. They need help formulating questions, and they need to develop the habit of seeking answers, not regurgitating them.  They should be going to schools where they are expected and encouraged to discover, build and cooperate. 

Socialization is the second historical justification for sending children to schools. Public school was where boys and girls expanded their worlds beyond family and where young people generally learned about each other.  But socialization too has been turned on its head by technology. Today there’s an App for just about everything, including ways to communicate with friends and strangers. Again, schools must adapt to this new reality. Because technology also isolates, schools need to harness its powers for group activities and projects.  They should also create technology-free times that provide opportunities for old fashioned (and essential) face-to-face interaction.

Only custodial care, the third reason we send kids to schools, remains unchanged.  Parents still need places to send their children during the work day to keep them safe.  But when schools provide only custodial care and a marginal education that denies technology’s reach and power, young people–many of whom already battle overwhelming life challenges–walk away, as at least 6,000 do every school day, for an annual dropout total of over 1 million.

Unfortunately, those in charge of public education have not been paying attention to these seismic changes. The drug of (phony and superficial) “School Reform” is preventing us from addressing the real issue: we send our children to schools that are inappropriate for the 21st Century.  That is the problem that must be faced head on–and solved.

For more, see: https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnmerrow/2019/07/23/why-we-have-public-schools/#214a550e42b5