THE Big, Hairy Question For Schools and School Leaders

Here is the question that education leaders should be screaming to each other and to the world: what is the business of school?

For millennia, the business (some of my colleagues think we should not use the word business with respect to education; replace it with purpose if you like) of schools has been to transfer the knowledge of past generations to the future generation in order to prepare them to function in the world they will inhabit.  It has been a good business because the world of the future has been sufficiently equal to the world of the past.

That premise is gone.  Yes, there is great value in the knowledge of the past, but students don’t need schools to acquire vast tracts of it.  Thus the question: what is the business or purpose of schools?

Is your school deeply embedded in searching for the answer to this question?  If not, how is that possible?  Do you as a community disagree with the premise?  Do you think it does not apply to your school? Have you already had the discussion, know the answer, and are willing to share with the rest who are still struggling mightily with it?

In talking and connecting with thousands of educators over the last two years I find overwhelming, perhaps nearly universal, agreement with the premise.  I also find many schools and school leaders still not embedding in this fundamental discussion of purpose or business.  It is big, scary, complex, and, unlike most questions we ask in school, we don’t already know the answer.  But it is not going away.

0 thoughts on “THE Big, Hairy Question For Schools and School Leaders

  1. Angél Kytle

    I’ll be thorny a bit and suggest that there is no definitive answer, and there shouldn’t be. Going back to your writing, our purpose or business is all about creating an environment (facilitating a culture, empowering all learners, and so on) where asking questions, finding problems, and designing evolving solutions is optimized. Our purpose is the search itself, recognizing that the end destination forever morphs, thus requiring new purposes and journeys. That’s what’s so valuable (and what many have lost sight of along the way due to comfort and/or fear).

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  2. principalaim

    Reblogged this on principalaim and commented:
    I discovered Grant Lichtman’s blog post and could not resist posting it to principalaim. According to Grant, the question that educators should be asking themselves is “what is the business of schools”?
    Like Grant, I acknowledge that many school officials bristle when anyone equates “business” with schools. However, I believe we have to get past our fears of becoming businesses so that we can take care of the business of educating millions of school age children. No matter how we look at it, we must figure out the business of school and (more importantly) of education for the sake of all children. tlb

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