Why Should I Go To School? 20 Reasons To Learn In A Changing World

The reasons to learn given at the end of the list are better than those at the beginning, & all are adequate ‘purposes of school.’

Why Should I Go To School? 20 Reasons To Learn In A Changing World

20 Reasons To Learn In A Changing World

by Terry Heick

“Why should I go to school?” 

That’s a frequently asked question that’s rarely given serious attention, much less a credible answer that makes sense to children. I’m going to talk about possible answers, though not in a way that will likely resonate much with students–but maybe some will.

This is partly about the purpose of school in its current form and partly about what sorts of purposes might be in-demand in a quickly-changing world. For many students, reasons to go to school might look something like this:

To learn

To learn to read and write

To be able to count and ‘balance a checkbook’

To get good grades

To make friends

To play sports

To get into ‘college’

To learn a skill or trade

To get a job

Sometimes, students may get philosophical and answer:

To learn about and improve myself

To find out who I am

To prepare for the future

But none of these responses are nearly accurate or robust enough to meet the requirements of a quickly-changing world grappling with new challenges in technology, sociocultural values, climate change, and the threat of ‘places’ in the face of ‘globalization.’

Before I delve into the abstractions below, let’s get a simple answer in student-friendly language for why students should go to school (assuming that they’re not ‘homeschooled’ or are otherwise directing their own learning somehow and assuming such a school is their only choice).

Why should you go to school? You should go to school to learn all the things you don’t know. Then, by learning some of them, you can learn which of the rest you suspect might value for you considering your place, path, and experience.

That is, what’s worth knowing for you.  

What’s The Point Of Learning?

The world has always been connected–by climate and language and culture and war and resource-sharing and travel and so on. Technology isn’t new here but, alongside climate change and the growing prevalence of propaganda and disinformation, has changed the urgency and scale radically.

I’ve also written before about the characteristics of a good school as well as the purpose of school. I’ve also written about the concept of a ‘global curriculum.’ Scale and change matter, of course. Ideally, I’d think, learning should result in personal change and personal change should yield, in relative increments, social change. Some possible formulas to describe this idea:

Critical literacy x time = personal change

Personal change ‘squared’ (or x time) = social change

That’s not quite right but you get the idea. The capacity for change plus the need and or tendency to change, over time, ‘should’ yield that change. But what’s worth changing and why? Who gets to decide our collective direction as a culture and species–especially in an increasingly ‘global’ world (that’s also not at all truly ‘global’).

(This is all going to get more philosophical and nonsensical from here, so be prepared.)

Thinking carefully about the concept of ‘place’–especially in light of a connected planet–reveals some takeaways for learning that might be worth thinking about. The modern terms of education seem to be, on the surface, global–or at least borderless and ‘post-national.’ It is also more technology-based (and thus dehumanized in form but maybe not in effect) than ever before.

Public education is now, at least in form, post-racial and is certainly post-theological. It even hints at one day becoming post-gender as well. The days of the United States being dominated by Anglo-American, upper-class, heterosexual, cisgender, English-speaking human aesthetics are already firmly in the past–but they’re still fresh enough to be the social archetypes we look to as the norm in norm-reference.

In a post-local society–one where all ‘places’ aren’t necessarily anchored to a geographical location–other considerations matter: linguistics, social etiquette, cultural norms, and more. Travel is about movement and experience. At its best, it’s about coming to know another place. This is a kind of learning literacy–learning how to travel is learning how to learn.

Traveling to make things is one step closer to authentic contexts and understanding–requiring us to know another place while we create things for purposes hopefully human and real. Critical pedagogy–the process of teaching and learning that results in the ability and tendency to improve one’s place–takes us even closer to the fullest form of a modern education.

By working well in one’s place–wherever that may be–we’re using your knowledge free from the constraints of strangeness. You know all the shortcuts because you’ve lived there your whole life.

A hierarchy for the purposes of education, then, might look something like this, starting at the least ambitious form and progressing from there. Note, while it is my opinion that the reasons to learn given at the end of the list are better than the reasons to learn given at the beginning, all are ‘good reasons to learn’ and more or less adequate ‘purposes of school.’

Note, many of these depend on a curriculum based itself on a place–meaning this student in this place that needs to understand this in order to do this. A curriculum that’s void of place is void of context and empty of meaning.

Why Should I Go To School? A Continuum For The Purpose Of A Modern School

  1. Developing the ability to read and write well
  2. Developing the tendency to read and write well
  3. Developing academic knowledge to become ‘good at school’
  4. Entirely mastering a given curriculum of study
  5. Mastering and then applying academic and non-academic knowledge to live (e.g., to ‘get a job’–which is different than ‘doing good work’)
  6. Gaining and using academic knowledge to do good work
  7. The ability to expertly create your own ‘curriculum’–learning literacy–this being hugely superior to mastering a given curriculumDeveloping and nurturing your creative capacities
  8. Developing the ability to think rationally and critically (to evaluate what you see and hear and read and separate truth from non-truths, for example)
  9. Developing the tendency to think critically
  10. Developing critical literacy (which requires both academic knowledge, creative expression, and critical thinking) in non-native places and developing critical literacy in one’s native place (e.g., protecting resources or rebalancing inequalities)
  11. Developing the ability to think and feel with and alongside others
  12. Developing and applying critical literacy (i.e., to do good work–helping people, restoring places, promoting equitable well-being, etc., which requires the ability to think and feel with and alongside others) in service of a given place and its people
  13. Developing the ability to ask and think about ‘great questions’ through sustained inquiry and curiosity
  14. Developing the ability to think (which requires critical literacy as well as the ability to ask great questions) and work with the people and places of a connected world
  15. Developing the tendency to work well (which requires critical literacy, empathy, and affection) with the people and places of a connected world
  16. Developing the cognitive capacity and thinking frameworks and mindsets (which requires wisdom) to wield all the available tools (including technology) and knowledge (including academic, vocational, technological, agrarian, cultural, etc.) to work well in any place with any people in a way that serves the sustainability, quality, and history, and affections of those people and places
  17. Learning what’s worth learning (for you, in your chosen place) by thinking critically and rationally
  18. Knowing what to do with what you decided was worth learning
  19. Developing and applying the critical capacity and tendency for doing what you decide is worth doing with what you decided was worth learning and knowing

Why Should I Go To School? 20 Reasons To Learn In A Changing World