As another school year begins, it makes me think more about the purpose school serves in our lives and in societies throughout the world. Most everyone reading this post has attended school and knows what that means to them personally. If asked, would we all have the same definition of school? Does it have the same meaning for a 2-year-old as a 12- or 20-year-old? Does it serve the same purpose for us no matter our age or station in life? What do we expect from school?
Many would define school as the brick-and-mortar building where children go to learn. It houses children who are educated so that they may contribute to society as they grow older. School is a place, and what is supposed to happen there is learning. This limited definition of school assumes that students of any age will learn what they need to learn in this space and in a specifically allocated amount of time. It assumes we are all able to meet mandated goals in the same way and along the same trajectory.
Think about yourself, your child, a sibling or a friend, and consider the learning profiles of each of these individuals. Would you agree that they are the same? Are you each able to tackle a math problem, an essay, a poem or a timeline from history in the same way and at the same pace? In your experience as a student, have some things been easy for you while others are beyond difficult? Did you notice others who struggled with what you found easy and those who breezed through a class or subject matter that made you sweat by just thinking about it?
Yes, schools exist to educate our populace. They are predicated on conveying an agreed upon number of facts to the students who enter their doors. However, schools are that and much more. They are places where children learn how to learn. They exist so that children can entertain ideas, face problems, try a variety of solutions and learn from the mistakes they are sure to make. When students leave one school to move on to the next level of schooling, they can only say they were served well if they continue to possess a sense of curiosity, are willing to work harder than is expected to go further than any teacher or curriculum defines as the end goal, and still yearn for more.
Though school has a definite end, learning is never finished.