What It’s All About

Posted by on Dec 10, 2008

Last month I had a compelling conversation with 21 educators in Moodle.  I’m still rather reeling from the whole discussion.

I posed the question, “What is the goal of education?”  Much as I did in this post.  I received 21 profound, comprehensive, thought-provoking responses.  I, in turn, crafted my response to the question.  The following is what I replied to the teachers, and what I believe on the issue.

“First, an observation. This class is replete with incredible educators from all levels, experiences, and frames of reference. There isn’t one person in this class I wouldn’t hope and wish for my child to have the honor of having for a teacher. Yet, with all the experience, knowledge, and excellence, there is one fact that strikes me as indicative of the entire educational institution of today. So many people have so many different goals.

Yes, some are very related to others, but think of the implications of this fact. We all struggle and fight to give the very best to our students. We argue, advocate, rejoice, are brought to tears, and simply care beyond caring for our students. Yet, in what direction are we all pulling the rope? It’s as if we’ve entered a desperate game of tug of war, and we struggle against the rope, and we pull against what we believe to be that which stands in the way of our students’ progress, but I fear we might just be pulling destructively against each other.

How can we change that which needs changing if we aren’t all going in the same direction? Of course there will be some who push back against this notion. ‘We must retain academic freedom and the ability to adapt based on student needs,’ some will argue, and to that I would say, ‘absolutely correct.’ The problem is, those issues are tertiary. Those are subcategories belonging to the whole.

What is the goal in education? Simply put. Learning. That is our goal. Not teaching, not testing, not content, not citizenship. It’s all about learning. It has to be.

I know it seems too simple, but stop and think about this. How often do we fail to make it about learning? How often are we racing to cover content? Content that will be lost on a child far too quickly. Once the phrase, ‘I have to get through the content’ is uttered, it has become about the content and no longer about the learning. I know some will say, ‘but they need to know all this content, and by doing so, they’re learning.’ But in this given context, the content has become the focus, not the act of learning. We get caught up in performance, and competition to see how many kids can all perform at the same level, and whose class had the most kids meet standards, and we forget about learning. Really, we do.

Try this. This week as you engage in educating your students, gauge everything you do against this idea. Is the focus and goal of what you’re doing learning? I think you’ll be surprised at how often (frequently as a result of something out of your control) you have to answer no.

The way our grading system is built, the way our intervention system is built, even the way our grouping of students by age is built given what we know about the variance of development in children, it all loses focus on learning.

What if our true, absolute goal was simply learning? I do believe so many, many things would be different.

I’m completely open to discussion on this.”

I know it may seem rather simplistic and rather obvious that our absolute goal is learning, but is it really that simplistic?  Is focusing entirely on learning really that easy?  Could it be?  I fear too often we take that which could be simple and add complexity to it thinking we’re making it better, but in the end, we simply ruin it.  I think it’s time we change that.

Thanks to Steffe for the Flickr image.


  1. Heidi Hass Gable
    December 11, 2008


    Thanks for this thought provoking post!

    I’ve been struggling with the same question and the same feeling that we’re not yet united behind a common goal. And my belief is that if parents and teachers unite their passion for kids behind a common purpose, we could be a force to be reckoned with in the creation of educational change – but what is that common purpose?

    I like your focus on learning because it includes, by implication, two things:
    1) empowered students – because in order to focus on learning, I believe we have to listen to what our students tells us about how they learn best and how they want to learn
    2) diversification – again, in order to provide learning for every child, we have to pay attention to their learning styles and needs, not just how we want to teach them, or how we deliver content to them. What we put out (teach) can be different from what students receive (learn) – and focusing on learning would require us to look at what’s received and why?

    Ultimately, I want success for each of my children, not just the ones that fit the “system” as it now exists. And it pains me to see everyone working so hard and caring so much – and still struggling to find the ways to reach all children (without burning out).

    Right now, excellence happens in spite of the system, not because of the system. We have to flip that on its head – and that takes making change – and that means we have to have a common goal…

    I’m so glad that this conversation is going on because it’s important to our children. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and adding your perspective!


  2. Ira Socol
    December 11, 2008

    Learning and communicating. Because I don’t mean just “learning how to communicate” – humans are born with certain communication skills and we shouldn’t wipe out any more than we have to.

    And because learning is the thing, but there’d be many fewer chances to learn if we didn’t communicate.

    But you understand, the kind of society we live in wouldn’t pay a dime for schools if “learning” was the goal. “We” are really not interested in that at all.

  3. Bonnie
    December 11, 2008

    Of course learning is the goal! If, by learning, you mean expanding the knowledge base of students so that they may grow as individuals, lead productive lives, and make positive contributions to society : )

    (And, I assume we’re talking about public education, because private education has so much more flexibility to produce different outcomes based on what those who supply the money want.)

    In public education, we will never please every taxpayer, nor should we try. It is our responsibility to use all the tools available to us to provide the best possible learning environment for the greatest number of students.

    The difficulty with the simplistic perspective is that teachers are not in total control of the learning that is done. We can not force learning upon anyone. We can supply information, encourage collaboration, provide guidance, motivate, inspire, stimulate, and make connections for our students so that they want to learn. We can teach in ways that we know to be effective because of our knowledge of pedagogy and human development. But we can not force the learning (or the good citizenship that follows) to take place.

    So really the ultimate goal of public education is to do everything in our power to ensure that all students receive the guidance and support necessary to achieve their greatest potential.

    Here’s a link to more of my thoughts on this critically important topic. Learning to teach

  4. Bret Willhoit
    January 18, 2009


    Thank you so much for having this conversation. I recently completed student teaching and the teacher ed program. For one of my classes, I wrote out my philosophy of education that I had compiled from many blog posts that I really enjoyed. As I have been polishing up my digital portfolio to get ready for job interviews, I recently went back to my phil. of ed. and realized just how varied and meandering it is. Maybe it is because I am just starting out and I have so much that I want to accomplish in teaching, but after this new perspective, I think I have included way too much. So thank you for challenging me to keep the focus on what is truly important.


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