The Purpose of Education

This post is my contribution to an ongoing project organized by purpos/ed, “a non-partisan, location-independent organization aiming to kickstart a debate around the question: What’s the purpose of education?“  It is an honor to have my post included among the other amazing bloggers that have also contributed their responses at

The purpose of education is to help students develop a lifelong love of learning.

Don’t you remember what school was like at age 6 and 7? I do. I had teachers that liked to have us explore, play, laugh and smile. I wanted to go to school and I wanted to learn.

I see this in my second grader. There is no “boring”. There is no memorization of facts. She wants to research topics she interested in and report them to her classmates. She reads, write, draws, thinks and discusses.

What happened between 2nd and 3rd grade?

My 3rd grader's bookcase

An appreciation and love for learning at school is something that is absent from the life of my 3rd grader. At homework time, she says:

  • Mom, I can’t draw my comic figures for this report, I have to do it the right way.
  • Mom, I can’t ask my teacher that, she might get mad at me.
  • Mom, I can’t use the computer for my spelling lists, I have to do this worksheet.
  • Mom, I can’t read that book, I have to read this one.
  • Mom, I hate homework.
  • Mom, I don’t like school
  • Mom, school is boring.

It goes on everyday, seven days a week. (Yes, she has homework seven days a week.)

What should we do? Or, how can we help? (Or what should I do and how can I help?)

Do our pre-service and in-service teachers getting enough experience, training and time for:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Empathy
  • Respect
  • Self-confidence
  • Self-awareness
  • The ability to reflect

Because if we can encourage all of this in our teachers, there is a glimmer of hope that they will model them well for our children.

I admit I am critical of those that work with my two girls. Shouldn’t I be? But, I acknowledge that perhaps some are not prepared in the sense that their education and experiences didn’t give them the opportunities to develop enthusiasm, empathy, respect, self-confidence, self-awareness and the ability to reflect.

We need passionate teachers. We need to cultivate a love of learning in all our students. I believe that before test scores rise, more children graduate from high school, and more graduates go to college, we need to focus on the purpose of education – nurturing a love of learning.

20 thoughts on “The Purpose of Education

  1. Thanks for the contribution, Lisa! For the benefit of UK readers not perhaps used to the US system, I think I’m correct in saying that:

    Grade 2 = Year 3
    Grade 3 = Year 4

    My wife teaches Year 4 and in the past taught Year 3. There doesn’t seem to be as pronounced a difference over here? I suppose it depends on the curricula. The problem we seem to have is from Year 6 (end of Primary, aged 11) to Year 7 (first year of Secondary). It’s widely known as the ‘dip’.

    I think it’s only right that as parents we hold our teachers accountable. However, we also need to understand that it’s the wider systems and cultures that make the sustainable and marked difference!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Doug.
      This “dip” is something that has become part of our culture in the U.S. Realize, though, that I am generalizing.
      There are so many amazing educators out there. I wish we could replicate their training and experience for those that would benefit from it.

  2. The comments from your 3rd Grade daughter speak to the importance of personalizing education for our students. Offering choice and providing flexibility can go a long way towards increasing students’ creativity rather than stifling it. Insisting on compliance and emphasizing that there is only ‘one right way’ to do things sends a message to students that they should be looking for answers rather than what we really should aspire to have them do, which is ‘create’ solutions. Allowing students to choose their own novel, the medium through which they represent their learning and how they use that medium are just a few examples of how learning can be differentiated. Framing student learning around an inquiry-based approach is also very effective because it forces students to ask the questions, research information and propose ideas. Inspiring our students to be curious and creative is so important if we hope to prepare them for our ever-changing world.

    Thanks for your post!


  3. Kay Conners says:

    This is such an important issue in education (US I refer to) as I have seen my own middle school students have their enthusiasm and love of learning drained from them in the last few years. Instilling a love of learning, a curiosity, and reflection is critical to all children and young adults. It is what will send them into the 21st century able to tackle the global and interconnected world in which they will live and work. I also would hope that universities are training teachers with your list in mind, but, not sure they are. My daughter is a pre-service teacher who is trying to bring her love of learning and teaching to her own elementary students (student teaching) only to have the “real world of testing” classroom brought to her by her professors, etc. Oh, as a long-time educator, I understand how to have a 21st century, reflective, project based classroom with standardized testing in mind, but my daughter is learning a difficult lesson in fighting for a student centered creative classroom instead of a worksheet, practice based classroom that is prevelant is most of the classrooms her friends student teach in. I would hope that in universities, we can break the cycle of this testing based, traditional model, but I have not seen many that are doing this in reality. Here and there, but not enough.
    Thank you for bringing us your thoughts, you are correct -we must do better in bringing a love of learning back to classrooms and to our children and that MUST be our purpose of education.

    1. Thanks Frances.
      I appreciate you mentioning “well-meaning” as I believe that a large percentage of educators are there to help our children.

      Perhaps the traits we are looking for in them get lost in the time it takes to get ready for the tests.

  4. teachingbattleground says:

    Why should students be constantly motivated and happy?

    We don’t all like hard work. Learning is hard work. Should we be molly-coddled and told that if hard work isn’t to our immediate taste then learning isn’t for the likes of us?

    When I was at infants school then once a week we would be taken out of our regular lessons and an elderly teacher would teach us in what was more traditional way than we were used to. Instead of flash cards, picture books and play, she taught us, from the front of the class, how letters fitted together to make sounds. I hated it and dreaded those lessons.

    Decades later I look back at those lessons and realise that it was in those lessons, unmotivated and bored, that I learnt to read and that was far more important than whether or not I loved learning it.

    1. I had a similar experience with my 7th grade math teacher. I remember having to stand at my desk to recite the multiplication tables. I hated it. But I know them.

      I’ll also admit that I help my 3rd grader practice her math lessons in an “old-school” way because it works for her. What she is experiencing in school this year is not working for her.

      So, let’s find a healthy combination of educational methods that help our students learn. Then, hopefully, more of them will develop a lifetime love of learning.

  5. Mrs. Thurmann,
    What a pleasure it was reading your post. You have a great way of telling this! I am a student in Dr. Strange’s Edm 310 course here at the University of South Alabama, and as an assignment I found your blog. Firstly I want to say thank you for sharing your thoughts with myself and my classmates. Your view of education tells me that you are a warm-demander for your students and sadly there are not that many left–i was relieved to find you! Im sure you have much success in your classroom and your students enjoy you! If you would like to see what is going on in my class you can visit my class blog By Clicking here*

  6. Lisa says:

    My daughter is in the 2nd grade. She’s been getting homework since Kindergarten. Our school’s homework philosophy states that homework will help our students develop lifelong learning skills, understand that learning takes place all the time and everywhere, and continue to motivate and inspire the learning process. Every day she comes home with a boring worksheet. Sometimes the worksheets are almost identical to previous worksheets. She doesn’t see how they’re connected to anything. She is not motivated and takes no pleasure in these tasks. These have become a gatekeeper to more pleasurable activities, and I’ve become the enforcer. So, we quit. At our last conference, I expressed my concerns. I told her teacher that we would engage in homework that had meaning, that allowed our family to discuss important topics and practice important skills together, but we would no longer be doing worksheets for the sake of doing a worksheet. Instead, I’ve created a Google site for my daughter that includes daily kid-friend news links, a page of skill building games/activities, and a page to engage her artistic and storytelling desires (all have links to sites and instructions). Sometimes I can’t pull her away. Instead of having arguments about doing the worksheet, we have discussions at the dinner table about things that are going on in the world. She feels she has a voice, because she’s read versions of the same articles we have (Time mag has a subset of their website with kid-friend news = awesome). Her benchmarks in math have improved. She’s engaged because she picks what she’s interested in, and she owns the results. She’s getting the ‘why’ behind the concepts, rather than the ‘because this will help you in the future’ static answer.

    Standing up and voicing my concern and coming up with a solution was the best thing I’ve done for my daughter. If more of us asked “why” perhaps we could make those broad stroke changes that our education system to desperately needs.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments, Lisa.
      Your daughter is so fortunate that you have done this all for her. You have me thinking that I can do more with designing activities for my girls.
      Thank you for telling your story!


  7. Nell Broughton says:

    Mrs. Thumann, I am a student at The University of South Alabama. I really enjoy reading this post because I feel like I relate to that in a way. I have younger cousins and siblings and some of them love school and others do not. I absolutely think it has everything to do with the teacher. 100 percent. YES, there are so many wonderful teachers out there but there needs to be more that have a love for their children in the way they want them to succeed and love learning. I agree with you with this entire post!!! One of my favorite posts I have read all semester, thanks for sharing.

  8. Lisa,

    It happened for my children as well in 3 rd grade. My guess is that is when we start testing. I am a product of the time (supposedly) when we as a nation (US) were behind everyone else when it came to test scores. But I loved school – we experimented, we played, we worked, we revised. I clearly remember by middle school days when we were given SCIS kits to learn all sorts of things through trail and error, experimentation. Back in my childhood days we were a nation on top of innovation, and creativity but lower on certain test scores compared to others. We have changed our direction to compete on test results and some how have left creativity and innovation behind. Maybe we were teaching something different back then, something you could not measure in standardize testing.

    My son now 14 no longer has a joy for learning, but he is good at doing what is asked of him, he follows directions and is moving though the process. From the schools point of view he is a success, from my point of view I am saddened.

    My daughter now 17 loves to learn. She is constantly learning, exploring, collaborating and creating. She has a deep and rich understanding of a large variety of topics. She however is not the best ‘student’. From the schools point of view she in not very successful, from my point of view she is a creative life long learner full of passion for knowledge, I couldn’t be more happy.

    Over the last few years I have turned my focus toward learning. Not learning in schools, just learning where ever it can occur. Sometimes, I believe, schools and learning are working against each other.

    1. Thanks for your comments Beth.
      So pretty much the spontaneous professional development that you and I enjoy in our own lives needs to be replicated in the lives of our children. Great idea. Thanks.

  9. I wish you had written this article 20 years ago so my teachers could have read it. They certainly did not think that the purpose of education was to help students develop a lifelong love of learning. They only made us hate our subjects.

  10. The purpose of education is to guide human beings to achieve the basic life goals, which is to exist, multiply and act positively in caring for the environment and contributing to the society.

    Education is more than schooling and is the process of dispelling human ignorance of the world as well as developing the inherent potential for perfection. Every human being without exception is seeking for happiness in life and has the inherent potential to live happily. Also, the resources needed to attain happiness in life are in the world. Unfortunately, human beings lack a clear understanding of how to development his/her potential as well as utilize the resources in the world to attain happiness in life. The purpose of education is therefore to develop our potential and to guide us to understand the resources in the world as well as utilize our potentials and the resources to attain happiness in life.

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