Feb 19, 2020

What is the Role of Education Today?


Among my favorite quotes supporting the work of education is by Francis Parker, the progressive educator who also founded several schools.

The work of the school is determined by the needs of society.

—Francis Parker

What is the role of education today? Is it to live a better life than that of the generation before us? Or, is it to leave a better life to those who will inherit the world behind us? I don’t mean to make this sound like such a dramatic, binary choice, but as we continue to see emerging generational differences in why those people younger than Gen X or Boomers choose independent schools and colleges, I suspect this question needs to come more into focus.

One potential looming need of our society is for immediate, stronger community building, especially in urban areas. I spend at least two to three days per week in urban areas across North America, working with our client schools, and am experiencing the challenges of urban living in a pronounced way. Nearly every city that I visit is seeing increasing income disparity, transportation woes, homelessless, gentrification of the downtown, rising housing costs, and displacement of low income populations. We are seeing an inflection point in urban planning and population migration. Our cities and communities are deteriorating right before our eyes.

What is the role of education in community building? Is it an explicit role for high quality education to not merely be present, but actively contributing to the health and vitality of the region? Is it an explicit role for education to be seen as a community asset, an economic development driver, and a civic engagement catalyst? And, if so, what do these things mean for the way in which we orient our curriculum, programs, and services?

I believe we are on the verge of a new pivot point. I suspect that the days of consuming education – and using high quality independent schools and colleges as the vehicle – for the sole purpose of elevating one’s life station are nearing their end. I believe that we are emerging into a more transformational role of education, where we point our school and college missions to the important work of improving the world for those that will inherit it.

Thank you, Francis Parker, for your foreshadowing.

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