What Are Public Schools For?

Are schools just about learning facts? Should they help students with problems outside school? Should they instill common values?

Last month, four state senators introduced a bill that would set a minimum student-to-counselor ratio in Minnesota schools.

Minnesota currently has one licensed counselor for every 771 students—one of the highest ratios in the nation, according to the American School Counselor Association. During a Minnesota Public Radio interview last week, a Roseville counselor and former DFL legislator said people in these positions help students with problems ranging from homelessness to family issues.

At first blush, schools have changed substantially since the era when school days focused on reading, writing and arithmetic. In addition to ensuring students know the curriculum, schools act as a social safety net for students experiencing problems outside of school, provide cultural and athletic experiences and introduce students to changing societal expectations.

Just this month, Patch readers debated whether school districts should include gay marriage in their curriculum. And educators themselves have been struggling to find their proper role when students bully each other outside of school. It’s clear that schools are no longer just about the facts inside a textbook.

But digging deeper, schools have never really been about just the facts. Horace Mann—the 19th Century founder of public education in the United States—believed schools had an important role to play in building character, instilling obedience to authority and “equaliz[ing] the conditions of man.”

Meanwhile, the Pledge of Allegiance and American history classes are at least partly about instilling a sense of common heritage or purpose—hardly a “just the facts, ma’am,” approach.

Even if we did decide to focus exclusively on facts and skills, there would be the question of which facts and skills to focus on. Are we teaching students vocational skills to prepare them for 21st Century workplaces? Are we teaching them critical thinking skills to navigate the hazards of life? Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

Patch wants to know what you think public schools are for. What do you expect as a taxpayer? What do you expect as a parent? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Willow March 25, 2013 at 11:31 PM
Maybe the question should be, "Should there be public schools?"
Bruce March 26, 2013 at 02:53 AM
Public Schools should be teaching the basics....nothing more, nothing less. The schools have gotten to involved in other areas not involved in teaching those basic requirements. Vocational skills should be taught outside the public schools or left to college level students. One of the biggest problem we are having is that our students aren't even ready for college because they lack basic reading, writing and math skills. If you were to look at the school systems that do exceptional, you would see that their emphasis is on the basics.
Mike B. March 26, 2013 at 12:31 PM
You are correct. There is no need for public schools. If a husband and wife wish to have children, they should be prepared to pay all costs with raising those children, including the educational costs. An added plus would be that as the parents would be now paying for educating their children at private schools, they would demand that the 3 R's be taught... instead of discussion of the nonsense of "gay" marriage. As it is now, parents are forced to pay the costs of private schools, and are still stuck with paying for public schools.
Lynn Bottge March 26, 2013 at 02:52 PM
Might I ask where you all received your education degree and how many years experience in the education system you have?
AreaTeacher March 26, 2013 at 03:07 PM
Bruce- I struggle with your opinion that public schools should be teaching only the basics...nothing more, nothing less. While I value your opinion, I respectfully disagree. Teaching students the basics of reading, writing and math is not enough. Shouldn't our children be problem solvers? Shouldn't our children be critical thinkers? Shouldn't our children be active, engaged citizens? These areas are not considered "basic", but are essential to being a productive member of society. As an educator I not only teach the basics, but also serve as a mentor/counselor and an advocate for the child. I also serve as a positive male role model for the increasing number of students who come from single parent families or do not have one available. I do not merely do the bare minimum (the basics of my job) because doing so would be a disservice to the students. I firmly believe that the basics are not enough.
Genuinely Curious March 26, 2013 at 04:17 PM
Yea, and while we're at it we should ask these questions: "Should we have an informed, educated, and capable citizenry?" "Should we have citizens ready to compete on a global stage?" "Should we have a society of educated "haves" and uneducated "have nots"?" "Should we invest in our future?" "Should Willow even be allowed to vote and make decisions that impact me and my children?"
Genuinely Curious March 26, 2013 at 04:21 PM
Yea Mike B! Let's dismantled the fundmental underpinning of our democracy - free, quality, and widespread education for ALL. Let's make it so that only those that can afford an education can get an education. Let's destroy the very concept of social mobility - those on the bottom of our society can stay there, and we can revert back to a system where only the rich, connected, and privileged can go to school, get educated, and be successful. I mean, who really cares about whether or not the less fortunate can have access to a quality education?
Genuinely Curious March 26, 2013 at 04:25 PM
Please Bruce, enlighten us with information about these "exceptional" school systems? Where are they? What is their curriculum? Don't just make a veiled remark without backing it up with examples. Thanks.
Joanne Simons March 26, 2013 at 04:31 PM
Bruce: "Public Schools should be teaching the basics....nothing more, nothing less" .. Really? What parent ever said, "I want my child to go to a school that teaches them the bare minimum"? No one. Ever. We value schools that offer our children a curriculum filled with music, art, languages, programs like International Baccalaureate, and opportunities to develop their talents through programs like debate, chess, theater, sports, and school publications. Kids learn in a variety of ways and possess a huge range of talents and interests. Our schools best serve our children when they offer a wide range of learning opportunities to spark their interests and develop their abilities. Bruce: "If you were to look at the school systems that do exceptional, you would see that their emphasis is on the basics." Please provide one example of school systems that "do exceptional" by providing only the basics. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. Edina, Southwest, St. Paul Central, Minnetonka. Just a few of our local exceptional public schools. And they are because of their rich, comprehensive curriculum and talented staffs that go far beyond "the basics".
rob_h78 March 26, 2013 at 04:38 PM
Of course not - just look at all of the great examples of countries that do not educate their kids - all great First Tier powerhouses - LOL...
Amy Paddock March 26, 2013 at 07:59 PM
I do like public school system for the most part. People who believe in making school system private want to go back to the Days before there was an "America". History lesson: The first public school in America was established by settlers in 1635
yomammy March 27, 2013 at 12:02 PM
Note to above: Public school is most certainly not "free"... On the other hand, I dont want some full-blown idiot parent being required to teach their own kids either--- the beginning of the movie "Idiacroacy" comes to mind...
David F March 27, 2013 at 12:58 PM
I am not sure why these discussions become so inflammatory. Certainly wouldn't show my children these posts. Not sure why this discussion deteriorated into why there should be no public schools. Please don't flame me with hateful rhetoric.
Mike B. March 27, 2013 at 01:09 PM
There is nothing "hateful" about discussing the proper role of "public" education, and whether government has a role in education. There are many solid arguments in favor of privatizing education to the greatest extent possible. Of course, the teachers' union fight every attempt to improve the educational environment for our children. It's a shame that some, including the above poster, seem personally offended when someone disagrees with their viewpoint.
yomammy March 27, 2013 at 01:47 PM
I just disagree with the union because they think the only way to make ANYTHING better is to throw more money at it....


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