"Why are we learning this?" Do students deserve a voice in what we are teaching them?

This is the final post from Clare Lombardo, the University of Pennsylvania student who wrote for the AJC Get Schooled blog this summer.

A Decatur resident, Lombardo is a Penn sophomore with aspirations in journalism and an interest in education. She was a great asset to the blog and added a youthful voice. I expect great things of Clare.

Thanks, Clare, for all your insights.

I am off this week in the wilds of New England without Internet. (I am at a local coffee shop at the moment.) I will be back on the beat this weekend. If you are having any problems with this new blog platform, shoot me an email. I had a problematic transition to this new format, but everything seems to be working now.

As you will note, Clare is offering a wrap-up here with a focus on some big questions. I am with three high school students this week, and it's been interesting to listen to them question what they are learning and its relevance. (It's also interesting to hear about how much repetition they contend exists in their classes from year to year.)

By Clare Lombardo

School has started again and the APS cheating trial is under way. In November, Georgia will select a new state school superintendent and choose between candidates for U.S. Senate and governor, each with strong views on education in Georgia.  Stories about schools and what goes on inside them are making headlines across the country.

No matter the topic, most debates about education boil down to some simple questions. Why do we send kids to school? What are the goals of education, and what role do schools and colleges play in our society? It’s hard to talk about the Common Core, standardized testing, or even teacher evaluations without implicitly answering these questions.

Many practices in K–12 education, like the implementation of the Common Core, are promoted to ensure America’s place in a competitive global economy. Others focus more on ensuring students are college–ready. Reasons for going to school vary widely, but students only hear a few of them.

Discussions about the purpose of schooling are ubiquitous on op–ed pages and in academia, but absent in middle and high school classrooms, where they’re needed just as much.

Questions from students like “Why are we learning this?” are too often pushed to the side or answered with a run–of–the–mill response like, “You’ll be expected to know it next year.”

Critical discussions about education should be encouraged, not discouraged, in the classroom. Before graduation day, high school students need opportunities to think about why they spend seven hours per day in a classroom, and if they’re heading off to college, what they hope to gain by doing so. Students and their teachers probably won’t reach any agreements—it’s clear that Americans are divided on the goals of education. But, they might emerge with their own reasons for coming to school and new insight on the opportunities that can be gained there, many of which have nothing to do with the future of the US economy.