The Line sat down with three well-known and passionate education advocates — an economist, a researcher and policy expert, and a sociologist — to explore what has shaped American beliefs about the purpose of education.
As part of that discussion, we asked each to share their thoughts about education’s value. Here’s what they told us, along with a deeper dive into how our divergent views and, perhaps, lack of political will are holding us back from creating the kind of education that’s good for each of us and for America too.
“I am an economist who has spent a large amount of time looking at the economic implications of education in our current schools. Of course, this is a narrower view than I hold, and that we ought to think about schools, but from an economic standpoint, I think, that very simply, the future of the U.S. depends upon improving the quality of its schools. What we know is the economic outcomes for both individuals and for the nation are highly dependent upon having skills.”
Eric A. Hanushek
The Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University
“A K-12 education, at minimum, provides the value of letting students acquire the skills they need to learn in other settings. So, reading and math and liberal arts are all part of being educated and setting the stage for what comes next. It’s also about identifying and providing gifted students with the stimulation they need to acquire the necessary knowledge to make a contribution to our society. Additionally, what we learn in school is as much about how to interact with others as it is about academic skills. All of these things are an important part of education. Nations that do a better job of that are more successful in terms of their growth and ability to adapt to a changing world.”
Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst
Former Senior Fellow at the Center on Children and Families in the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institution
“I think in the U.S., we have a very muddled conception of what the purpose of education is, but there are competing goals that are sometimes in conflict with one another around our hopes for what an education system can do, both for individuals and for society. And in fact, that individual versus society fault line is a very important one.”
Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology and Education and Education Policy and Social Analysis Department Chair at Teachers College, Columbia University
“I would say that, rhetorically, we hear a lot of talk these days about social efficiency… But we’ve heard much less about education for democratic citizenship.”
In this issue of The Line, there’s plenty of evidence of the kind of conflicting but well-intentioned objectives that Pallas points out, but there are also points of agreement and opportunity to advance common ground. Journey with us through the other articles from Issue 5 of The Line as education leaders make cases for reforms, from prioritizing and defining 21st century curriculum to exploring new delivery models.
Tell us what you think below.