What is school for?
This question is a fascinating one. Partly because you rarely hear it asked, but also because of the duality of its purpose. On the one hand, it could be a philosophical question, designed to elicit and explore ideas from those aged four to 94; on the other, it could be a question aimed at those in overall charge of its implementation.
In the first instance, you might imagine it preceding the overhaul of school itself. Millions of people given one sentence to have their say; the most illuminated luminary you can find given one year to translate the sum of their most salient answers into a cogent, coherent strategy for 2022. And as life is moving so fast, you put it up for review in 2030. Maybe earlier.
In the second instance, you’re just looking for clarity. You either teach in a school, or perhaps lead it. Regardless, you would just like a simple answer to a simple question. Because then, presumably, you would be better placed to do your job as an educator. Or even just to reflect. I wonder how policymakers would respond? And how it might affect your role?
I like the idea of this last exercise in thinking about different responses to the question ‘what is school for’ – my response would be: ‘I think school should teach you the emotional skills that help underpin an insightful, meaningful life.’ And because some educators would cover the importance of creativity and artistic expression, and others that of academic progress, and love of learning, I think I’d stop there.
Why? Because at the heart of learning is an individual. An individual who, to my mind, during the course of their young life, is trying above all else, to start to work out and celebrate a) who they are and b) who they could become. And unless that individual begins to learn the answers, or part-answers, to those two questions, then my feeling is that the teaching of SATs, GCSEs and A Levels, of degrees, master’s and doctorates, regardless of whether they are achieved or not, may all have come at too high a cost.
Because we can all buy into the theory that the acquisition of academic knowledge, and as a consequence, grades, is the fundamental precursor to a good life – because of the jobs it can open up, the earning power it may provide – but actually, deep down, don’t we all know that without the simultaneous development of its sensitive twin, our emotional intelligence, there will always be rocks on which that good life will falter? The opportunities that get away, the relationships that break down, the personal development that, well, struggles to develop.
You have a go. One sentence only, remember. What is school for?
About the author
Richard Evans is a secondary school teacher whose book Independent Thinking on Emotional Literacy (Independent Thinking Press, 2020) is out now and available here.