Mike RoseMike Rose is on the faculty of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and the author of Possible Lives: The Promise of Public Education in America, recently released by Penguin with a new preface, and The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker. His new blog on education can be found through his website mikerosebooks.com


As the 2008 election moves center stage, I would like us to pause and ask ourselves the big question. Why do we as a nation yearly engage in the hugely expensive and culturally monumental ritual of sending children to school?

From everything we hear, it’s to prepare the next generation for the economy, and that preparation is measured through scores on standardized tests. This has been the primary justification for education for a generation.But our children are more than economic beings, and learning and development cannot be reduced to a few test scores.Education turned my life around, so I come at this issue in a very personal way. I long to hear more in our national discussion about the powerful effect education can have on young people’s lives.

During most of my time in school, my father was seriously ill, and my mother worked two shifts to keep us afloat. I was a disconnected and dreamy child, vaguely fearful of our circumstances, full of longing but without much direction. There’s a lot of kids out there like me. And they need all that school can provide.

We need to talk more about school as a place where young people form connections beyond the family to adults who can guide and mentor them. This was hugely important for me. These relationships often develop around a shared interest, around biology or mechanics, basketball or theater, thus putting a human face on knowledge and discipline.

We need to talk about school not only as a place where young people acquire knowledge, but where they learn how to use it, how to make an argument with historical events, how to think with numbers.

We need to talk about self-reflection, becoming methodical, examining your own work. And we need to talk about reflecting on motive and on the consequences of choosing one path rather than another–whether in a science experiment or in the schoolyard.

School is a place where young people learn how to think with and through each other, how to jointly puzzle over a problem, how to make sense of discordant views, how to arrive at consensus. School is a place where your world can open up–mine certainly did–through history, and geography, and literature, but, too, through the people you meet and through your own growing sense of where you fit in the scheme of things.

And all the above help young people develop a sense of themselves as knowledgeable and capable of acting in the world. This, finally, was what education gave me, a pathway from hazy disaffection to competence, to a dawning awareness that I could figure things out and do something with what I learned. This was the best training I could have gotten for vocation and citizenship.

If I could make one suggestion about education to the 2008 presidential candidates it would be to put aside the standard rhetoric about jobs and test scores and think about why they send their own children to school. Ask the same question of the wide sweep of the electorate they’ll meet on the campaign trail.

And if I can make a suggestion for the rest of us, it would be to have this conversation among ourselves. I know that principals and teachers are so swamped by the events of the moment that such conversation is difficult. But I think it would be worthwhile. Such conversation could also be initiated in parent groups, and among administrators, teachers, and parents. And parents could have it with their children. What does school mean to them? Imagine this conversation making its way to school boards, into letters to the editor of the local newspaper, to policy makers. We as a nation could begin a wider discussion than we’ve had in decades about why we educate children in a free society.

Share This:


9 Responses to “Why Do We Educate Our Children? by Mike Rose”

  1. Michele Erickson on 6/4/08 10:11 AM US/Eastern

    The middle school philosophy addresses the concerns in this article. We use the school within a school approach to help the students feel the sense of belonging that is so crucial at this age. A mentor program can also help establish positive relationships between students and adults or even between students and older students in the community. I agree with the points made, and I feel confident as a principal that we are on the right track.

  2. Rebeckah Winans on 6/5/08 12:22 PM US/Eastern

    Education historically has seen pendulum movements between focuses. At one point, we were entirely focused on exactly the points highlighted in the thread. This was in response to society’s focus at that time — schools do this. They are a mirror of the times they are in and address the concerns that the “now” presents. Unfortunately, that leaves us with not attending to the future which was the first directive given to schools – designing the participants for the future society. The ‘now’ presented was/is NCLB but it has morphed into regulations that have strangled some of the aspects of student and teacher reflection.

    Reflection is what will change the future whether it is students, staff or administrations. Reflection is the ultimate designer of purposeful change. I believe that we can model moments of reflection for our staff and students by highlighting this in our informal talk and questions. We know as administrators that once a teacher enters his or her room – it is the reflection of the day that will change the learning of tomorrow.

    Some may think this means a complete reworking of a system and requires huge time allocations. Reflection does not have to happen between 8:00-3:30…most times it will not. And it doesn’t have to be 30 min. or 60 minutes a day – it needs to be a habit of mind. This will bring about a change in lesson, during the lesson.

    There are ways to bring this about. As change agents, modeling and asking reflective questions during 8:00-3:30 will cause a change past 3:30 which I believe will change learning for tomorrow. As teachers grow to be reflective beings they will act out their thoughts in actions and design learning with reflection – despite the focus of NCLB requirements.

  3. mike rose on 6/11/08 12:25 AM US/Eastern

    Hello Michele and Rebeckah. Mike Rose here. I wonder if
    either of you find that the pinch on resources felt in so
    many districts limits the enactment of middle school
    philosophy or reflective practice.

  4. Elizabeth Kozleski on 6/13/08 10:36 AM US/Eastern

    Mike’s comments remind me about the importance of listening to families and students as they talk about school and their experiences there. In May, we spent three or four days listening to families, students, and teachers talk about their experiences in a small elementary school located in Phoenix.

    Two things impressed me about this experience. The first was the passion that all three groups had about their work and the importance that they placed on education. The second was how much families and students focused on the relational aspect of what learning meant for them. They spoke about how they responded to and engaged with teachers and other school folks who were caring and recognized their individuality.

  5. Ellen Urciola on 9/25/11 9:11 PM US/Eastern

    Mike, I can identify with you school experience. I would like to try to answer your question, “Why do we educate our children?”

    I grew up in a lower middle class, blue collar family that stressed a very strong work ethic. Education was only important in the culmination of a high school diploma. Any additional thoughts of college meant you were better than everyone, that you had a chip on your shoulder. My Italian family valued hard work and a decent life-style. College was not in the offering. However, something had happened during my twelve years of education, I had fallen in love with learning. Learning was something I never gave up on, even though I felt learning had given up on me. Education had lit the pilot light of learning for me. In retrospect, I do think school gave me direction. In the end though direction was something that would need to start and end with me. It was a long journey.

    I agree with you when you say there are a lot of kids out there that need direction.
    I believe we educate our children to give them direction through choices. Sometimes we need to explicitly teach those choices by teaching the hidden curriculum. Sometimes we reinforce, other times we reinvent, but we should always be there to listen objectively and non-judgmentally. Schools show kids they can travel down any path. They also teach kids that they can turn around on any path they travel down and choose another path. More than that I think we educate our children because we can.

  6. Sophie on 1/19/13 8:42 PM US/Eastern

    Good article. I don’t believe we should treat our young people like nothing more than new labor for the economy. Extreme versions of this view might be what leads to situations where gross human rights violations happen all for the sake of a better economy. I think independence is the goal; if we aim to make our young people independent, this doesn’t compromise their individuality. They will eventually turn into individuals that play a role in the economy.

  7. K.Mc on 6/23/15 9:52 PM US/Eastern

    nice article….. i share some of the same views

  8. aggrey kodhek on 10/6/16 6:03 AM US/Eastern

    Education makes us universal-Global CITIZENS

  9. L. D. Bergeron on 8/17/17 11:02 AM US/Eastern

    Dear Mr. Rose:
    I agree with your comments however until people accept their responsibility in learning the real facts about the political process and how it has established an education system to maintain the status quo your ideas will never be. Redesigning the curriculum content and process would help teachers to develop learning experiences that promote your ideas. Demanding political parties to clearly express their position would help people to make informed decisions.
    A good architect always designs detailed blueprints so that the project is a success.

Leave a Reply