Students weighing in on what they view as the purpose of education are pointing to college readiness, and discovering a passion and practical life skills, in alignment with parents and others who stress the importance of lessons that develop good character.
The Atlantic recently teamed with The Hechinger Report to survey students about what they hope to get out of their education, and it’s clear many pupils are looking for a well-rounded education that focuses as much on finding a passion in life as mastering traditional subjects like math, English and reading.
Baltimore School for the Arts junior Ifetayo Kitwala said she’s looking to broaden her horizons at school by learning from her classmates to develop an appreciation for other cultures that she can carry with her through life.
“I feel like schools could be a place where I can learn about their culture and where they came from and (they) can learn about mine. And, of course, you know, have your science and math, and learn how to write,” Kitwala said. “But also be, not necessarily a culture shock, but a place to broaden your mind.
“If you don’t do it young, then you’ll never do it, in my opinion,” she said.
Jadaci Henderson, a senior at Dumas New Tech High School in Arkansas, told the news site she hopes to gain an education that will help her “be a functioning member of society who can work, who can educate someone else, who can be a role model.”
Others, like USC Hybrid High School—Los Angeles sophomore Lilianna Salcedo, think “the role of teachers and education in general is to help us progress as a society."
"Not only in our smarts or technology,” she said, “but to help us progress as a human race: preparing us to tackle the issues that (our predecessors) couldn’t defeat.”
Most of the students interviewed, whether they recognize it or not, want lessons that instill good character traits that will prepare them for both the workforce and academia, as well as a life of purpose.
And their parents want the same.
“The overwhelming majority of American parents (96 percent) say ‘strong moral character’ is very important, if not essential, to their children’s future,” according to “Culture of American Families,” a 2012 report by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.
Schools should prompt students to think about what “the good life” means to them.
The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues offers a lesson, “Beginning at the End, Towards ‘The Good Life,’” that helps teachers lead students by imagining themselves looking back on their lives 70 or 80 years from now and discussing what they’ve hoped to have accomplished.
“How do your current actions further or undermine the ‘good life’ that you hope to have led, at the end of the next 70 or 80 years or so?” the assignment asks.
The lesson prompts students to think about what truly motivates them—pleasure, wealth, status, power, knowledge, or ethical living—and to consider the perspective of the philosopher Aristotle, who argues that a life marked by courage, self-control, generosity, friendliness, discretion, truthfulness, and other attributes of good character is ultimately the most rewarding.
“In fact, Aristotle thinks that being able to live out these and other ‘virtues’ in the differing contexts of our lives, is actually what makes up . . . a life well lived, and indeed, worth living,” the assignment reads.