Purposes and Values of Education

The challenges of finding ways to close "test score gaps" among groups of students and to better prepare people for work are both urgent and very real. These challenges should not, however, be permitted to push from our consciousness abiding questions about the larger purposes and social values that animate education. Indeed, a good case can be made that too single-minded an obsession with the most "practical" aspects of education may in the long run be counterproductive even for its own limited purposes.

We value education for its contributions to civic, political and community life, for its role in advancing social justice, for its capacity to open to people worlds of cultural and artistic excellence, and in the largest sense for its contributions to "human flourishing." Questions at this less immediate but ultimately deeply practical level are often posed by philosophers and social critics, the best of whom show a lively interest in and skilled use of findings from the social sciences.

One important aspect of such inquiry is the question of the relationship between public and political understandings of educational purposes and values, on the one hand, and educational policies and practices on the other. This is, of course, a problem of "theory and practice" in education at the broad social level which mirrors the issue of the relationship between educational research and practice at other points in this document.Analytical, historical and empirical work that probes effectively and creatively into these deeply challenging and permanently important issues can contribute mightily toward social decision-making that moves education along constructive paths.