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.