This entry is part [part not set] of 7 in the series Question of the Week

A few weeks ago my oldest daughter was going through the annual standardized testing. This lead to an interesting conversation between a fourth grader & her dad. It went something like this:

Daughter: Dad, can you make me a good breakfast? I have to eat properly so I can do well on my test.

Dad: Why do you have to do well on your test?

Daughter: So I can get into the right programs…so I can go to a good college.

Dad: Why do you have to go to a good college?

Daughter: So I can get a good job.

Dad: Why do you need a good job?

Daughter: Dad, you don’t want me to live on the streets do you?

That interaction is loaded with all sorts of things that need to be addressed, but for today let us just focus on one simple question.

Is the purpose of education to simply get a good job? Or is the purpose of education to actually learn?

Have at it…

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  1. As a junior high teacher (Spencer, we worked together way back when!), I find it so difficult to communicate to my students that learning HAS to be an important goal. They’re so focused on the payoff, which is most immediately the grade, that they forget that the grade is supposed to indicate something about their competence/knowledge/achievement in their area of study.

  2. Annalee,

    Wow, Rio Norte Jr. High was certainly a few years ago.

    I agree, it is certainly difficult for teacher to be the one trying to convince students that education is actually about learning and not just the career. Although, some teachers certainly need to think through this as well. It is a responsibility that needs to transcend what happens in the classroom. Other facets of society need to value education and not simply see education as some sort of means to an end.

    It is interesting that you bring up the issue, although in passing, regarding outcomes based education. I think there is a lot to be said for abandoning the grading scale & just move to a performance based matriculation/outcomes model, but that is for another time.

  3. It seems the U.S. Secretary of Education would claim, according to a quote in this article (, the point of a college education is for our nation “to stay competitive in the global economy”.

    Sounds like more of “missing the point”. It’s not very reassuring to know that the top education official in the country doesn’t seem to understand the purpose of education.

    • Spencer, while reading this article I couldn’t help but think of some of the thought provoking remarks you made in our class time together in this past semester. I don’t know if you remember but you asked us something like “If a student does the course work in such a way that would normally deserve a 92% in the class, should that student receive that grade even if that student does not apply what they in theory learned to their life?” I think that this is a profound question that MUST be considered. Difficulties clearly arise depending on the details but I do think there is some strong merit to the possible method of grading based on actual application. How that would all work out in detail I am not sure, but I certainly like the idea that students would have some sort of requirement to apply particular things to his/her own life instead of getting a grade based on theoretical understanding. Unfortunately I have personally witnessed many young people who have abandoned ‘learning’ (because they saw learning as a means to an end) in order to pursue advancement using social media and social networking.

  4. Where I grew up, and in my family, and education was for education and learning. A good job was a bonus. Case in point, my mother has a degree in Physics from London University with Honours, worked in the military for a few years, but currently does bookkeeping and secretarial work (which she is obscenely organised and efficient at). I studied on and off for 5 years in Australia but degree hopped and so haven’t got a diploma, yet I seem more educated, knowledgeable, competent the than the graduates I meet here in the states, and I feel…something is wrong.