Goals of American K-12 Education

Begin with the end in mind. I have brainstormed this topic many times over the years — especially when I was involved in writing K-12  curriculum. The list will be long. So much to “cover,” don’t you know. But at some point, we will have to cull it. That’s been one of the unresolved issues in American education.We have to teach so much content that we often end up teaching superficially and too broadly. What content must students  understand in depth? What can we leave out? As Sam Chaltain says in his blog on Huffington Post: “Of all the things we can do together, what must we do?” Not only does this quotation fit decisions about curriculum, but it is quite fitting for the school reform movement as well.

Goal #1: Students must graduate prepared to be responsible citizens in a democracy. (Assuming that most of you agree with this one — you better — I am not trying at this point to get the wording “just right.” You are free to offer suggestions as to a better way to write these goals.)

Goal #2: Students must be able to read critically and think critically. They must be able to distinguish fact from opinion. from D. Roane (see his comments below in the Comment section). If you go to the link above, you will notice that I include two opposing points of view regarding critical thinking. Some people, like Dick Cheney’s wife Lynn, fear that if American students learn to think critically that they will not be as patriotic as she would like. Just because I included an item in the list does not mean that I agree or disagree with it. All of the items are there because we need to have a national conversation about what the goals of American education should be. (If you read Diane Ravitch’s Life and Death of the Great American School System, you know that Lynn Cheney was largely responsible for putting the skids on school reform many, many years ago — so pay attention to what I just said above.)

As an observer of the school reform debate, I wish to add these words to those of D.Roane:  and how  to find and recognize those who are authorities in their field who can provide credible,useful information. One example close to home? It’s been quite unsettling to see that the media do not seek out  teachers and principals and parents for their panels — the very ones who work “in the trenches” and know exactly what’s going on. (theschoolprincipal)

Goal #3: Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.William Butler Yeats

and along with this one: A life-time love of learning

Goal #4: I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning to sail my ship. Aeschylus

Goal #5: Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. Malcolm Forbes

and in similar vein:

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought                without accepting it.  Aristotle

Goal #6: No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure. Emma Goldman

and let me add this word to #6: Empathy – the ability to walk in another’s shoes; the ability to put oneself in another’s place

Goal #7: The object of education is to prepare the young to educate themselves throughout their lives. Robert M. Hutchins

Goal #8: The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. Sydney J. Harris

Goal #9: The one real goal of education is to leave a person asking questions. Max Beerbohm

Goal #10: Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too. Voltaire

Goal #11: “Students come to us having sat around for twelve years expressing attitudes toward things rather than analyzing. … They are always ready to tell you how they feel about an issue, but they have never learned how to construct a rational argument to defend their opinions.”
R. Jackson Wilson, professor, Smith College

So: Students can construct a rational argument to defend their opinions.

It’s your turn. If I don’t see another new one soon, you can bet I will add more. This is one of my favorite topics.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Cox
June 13, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I think #1 should have the word “participating” after responsible.


2 theschoolprincipal
June 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Good point, David. I guess I have taken it for granted that responsible citizens do participate — but recently it seems that people are willing to vote but that’s all they’re willing to do. If we are to prevail and do what’s right for our kids, many more people will have to participate in our movement to save our schools. (www.saveourschoolsmarch.org)


3 D. Roane
September 28, 2010 at 6:36 am

Goal #1: Students must graduate prepared to be responsible citizens in a democracy.
This is an admirable first goal. It is often the case that efforts to increase funding for public education are mostly driven by a motivation to increase the readiness of our work-force, ie., better education means better economic prosperity. This brings the question, are we in the business of training workers for corporate America, or are we training for American Citizenship? I would argue that there is some mutual exclusivity between the two ends. It is my opinion that the thing that imperils the greatness of the US is not an economic threat, but rather threats to democracy, rationality and individual liberty.

Goal #2: Students must be able to read critically and think critically. They must be able to distinguish fact from opinion.


4 theschoolprincipal
September 28, 2010 at 7:55 am

Right you are! Thank you for your very astute comment.


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