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4.6: What is the purpose of school?

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    BY: Jennifer Scarce

    Learning Objectives

    • Reader will recognize the social effects of school on a child's life.
    • Reader will recognize the intellectual effects of school on a child's life.
    • Reader will know when the first school came into existence.


    1. an institution where instruction is given, esp. to persons under college age: The children are at school.

    2. an institution for instruction in a particular skill or field.

    3. a college or university.

    4. a regular course of meetings of a teacher or teachers and students for instruction; program of instruction: summer school.

    5. a session of such a course: no school today; to be kept after school.

    6. the activity or process of learning under instruction, esp. at a school for the young: As a child, I never liked school.

    7. one's formal education: They plan to be married when he finishes school.

    8. a building housing a school.

    9. the body of students, or students and teachers, belonging to an educational institution: The entire school rose when the principal entered the auditorium.

    10. a building, room, etc., in a university, set apart for the use of one of the faculties or for some particular purpose: the school of agriculture


    The first public school came into existence in the mid-nineteenth century. Its founders called it the “common” school. Common schools were funded by local property taxes, charged no tuition, open to all white children, governed by local school committees, and subject to a modest amount of state regulation(Tyack,2001). Students often went to the common school from ages six to fourteen, although this could vary widely. The duration of the school year was often dictated by the agricultural needs of particular communities, with children being off when they would be needed on the family farm(Katz, 1987). Typically, with a small amount of state oversight, each district was controlled by an elected local school board. Traditionally a county school superintendent or regional director was elected to supervise day-to-day activities of several common school districts. Since common schools were locally controlled, and the United States was very rural in the nineteenth century, most common schools were small one-room schools(Kaestle, 1983). Common schools had a single teacher (usually female) and all the students were taught together, regardless of age. Common schools typically taught reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, and math. Evaluation of students was very varied (from 0-100 grading to no grades at all), but an end-of-the-year recital was a common way that parents were informed about what their children were learning(Cremin,1980).


    What's the purpose of school anyway? This is a question that every child asks at some point in their adolescent years. After all, what is appealing to a child about going to bed early, getting up early, and sitting in a desk for six and a half hours a day? Children don't understand how important going to school really is, but the importance of education is quite clear. Education is the knowledge of putting one's potentials to maximum use. Training of a human mind is not complete without education. It tells one how to think and how to make decisions. The importance of education is that only through the attainment of education, man is enabled to receive information from the external world to acquaint himself with past history and receive all necessary information regarding the present(Katz, 1987). Knowledge of education is built upon a foundation that begins with pre-school, where a lifetime of learning begins. It is vital to have a solid foundation of learning because each year new applications are taught and learning is like building blocks, you continually build on what you were initially given. If you miss a piece of information along the way, you will never be able to reach the top.


    Achieving a good education to further knowledge is not the only purpose of school. Today’s schools really focus on teaching good citizenship and good character. I have substituted for the past year and a half and I have to share an example of being a witness of following through with this application. I recently substituted at an elementary school that encourages children to be honest and that no good deed goes unnoticed. To follow through with this concept, each morning during announcements the principle recognizes children for picking up paper towels in the restroom or turning in money found on the floor, even if it is just a penny. The children are so proud of themselves when they are acknowledged and this has really become an epidemic throughout the entire school.


    At a very young age children are taught to share and to be considerate of other people’s feelings. They are also taught a great deal about emotions, behavior, and the consequences of their actions. Being able to interact socially and have healthy relationships is a very important part of life. While in the classroom children are constantly interacting with others and whether they are aware of it or not, they are learning to co-exist in a very diverse world. This socialization helps children build critical thinking skills and develop good communication skills. Schools also provide lots of extracurricular activities that incorporate teamwork, good sportsmanship, and exercise into participation. The elementary school ages are considered to be the fundamental grades and stages of development. With this in mind, it is important that children are taught positive behaviors and habits early in life. By teaching children positive behaviors at a young age, kids are more able to understand and engage in long-term attitudes and actions that will guide them towards future success. To encourage students, and to teach all kids positive behaviors, elementary schools across the country have implemented positive behavior programs to improve student awareness, knowledge, and development(Wiggins, McTighe, 2008).


    Even before they enter school, young children learn to walk, to talk, and to use their hands to manipulate toys, food, and other objects. They use all of their senses to learn about the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells in their environments. They learn how to interact with their parents, siblings, friends, and other people important to their world. When they enter school, children learn basic academic subjects such as reading, writing, and mathematics. They also continue to learn a great deal outside the classroom. They learn which behaviors are likely to be rewarded and which are likely to be punished. They learn social skills for interacting with other children. After they finish school, people must learn to adapt to the many major changes that affect their lives, such as getting married, raising children, and finding and keeping a job. Because learning continues throughout our lives and affects almost everything we do, the study of learning is important in many different fields. Teachers need to understand the best ways to educate children. Psychologists, social workers, criminologists, and other human-service workers need to understand how certain experiences change people’s behaviors. Employers, politicians, and advertisers make use of the principles of learning to influence the behavior of workers, voters, and consumers. The purpose of school is to provide a quality education so that all students have an equal opportunity to develop their full potential(Wiggins, McTighe, 2008).


    “The central job of schools is to maximize the capacity of each student.” ~Carol Ann Tomlinson


    Cremin, Lawrence (1980). American Education: The National Experience. New York: Harper Collins.

    Kaestle, Carl (1983). Pillars of the Republic: Common schools and American society, 1780-1860. New York: Hill and Wang.

    Katz, Michael (1987). Reconstructing American Education. Cambridge: Harvard.24-57.

    Learning (2009). Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved February 20, 2009 from

    Wiggins, G., McTighe, J. (2008). Educational Leadership, Vol. 65 Issue 8, p36-41, 6p. Retrieved February 20, 2009 from Teachers Reference Journal.