What is your purpose of education? Best educational approach?

Particularly in America, there has been a lot of talk about educational reform yet it has not transpired because reaching a consensus about the purpose of education and effective teaching approaches has been a challenge. Before diving into your thoughts about what education means to you, I’ll start with some background knowledge about the types of curricular designs, curricular conceptions (approaches), philosophical foundations, assessments, and how they connect to each other.

There are three major types of curricular designs – subject-centered, learner-centered, and society/problem-centered designs. Each curricular design connects to a corresponding curricular conception: subject-centered with academic rationalism, learner-centered with humanism/self-actualization, and society-centered with social reconstruction.

  • The rationalism conception focuses on classical subjects and essential skills, and the transmission of intellectual tradition and culture (Vallance, 1986). The assessments are standards-based, with an emphasis on high-stakes testing. It is associated with the philosophies of perennialism and essentialism in which assessments evaluate the mastery of timeless knowledge or the principles of subject matter (Ornstein, 1990/1991).
  • The humanism/self-actualization conception focuses on developing students’ identities and full potential (Vallance, 1986). The main purpose of assessments is to monitor student effort and progress, and improve student learning and motivation. Common assessments include student self-assessments, teacher observation, and constructed-response items such as performance tasks, oral questioning, and essay items (McMillan, 2014). It is closely linked to the philosophy of progressivism, in which learning is based on students’ interests, and involves the application of meaningful, real-world problems (Ornstein, 1990/1991).
  • The social reconstruction conception focuses on empowering students to improve society (Vallance, 1986). The main purpose of assessments is to ensure that students develop the critical thinking and skills needed to reconstruct society. Common assessments include teacher observation, and constructed-response items such as performance tasks, oral questioning, and essay items (McMillan, 2014). It is directly connected to the philosophy of reconstructionism, in which education serves as the foundation for social reform by examining social, economic, and political issues (Ornstein, 1990/1991).

Critics argue that rationalism neglects student interests and needs and encourage student passivity (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013). In terms of high-stakes testing, “critics claim that they narrow and distort the curriculum, hold students and teachers with inequitable resources to the same standards, and solidify class and ethnic disparities” (Blazer, 2011, p. 1). As such, more educators and higher-education institutions are moving away from the rationalism conception and opt for humanism or social reconstruction approaches. However, the humanism approach is criticized to have no standard body of knowledge, inadequate exposure to cultural heritage, and its emphasis on individuals does not meet the social goals of education (Sowell, 2005). Similarly, the social reconstruction approach is criticized in the superficial teaching of some topics, inadequate exposure to cultural heritage, and ironically may perpetuate current social structures (Sowell, 2005).

Now I’d like to open the dialogue to you all… I’m curious as to what you think is the most appropriate or effective educational approach? What is your purpose/philosophy of education? Is the ideal any of the aforementioned approaches, a combination of them, or an entirely new approach? Feel free to share whatever you’d like, as there’s absolutely no right or wrong answers! :)




Blazer, C. (2011). Unintended consequences of high-stakes testing. Information Capsule Research Services, 1008(1), 1–21. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED536512.pdf  

McMillan, J. H. (2014).  Classroom assessment: Principles and practice for effective standards-based instruction (6th ed., pp. 1-20,  57-64,74-88). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Ornstein, A. C. (1990/1991). Philosophy as a basis for curriculum decisions. The High School Journal, 74, 102-109.

Ornstein, A. C., & Hunkins, F. P. (2013). Curriculum: Foundations, principles, and issues (6th ed., pp. 149-173). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Sowell, E. J. (2005). Curriculum: An integrative introduction (3rd ed., pp. 52-54, 55-61, 81-85,103-106). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Vallance, E. (1986). A second look at conflicting conceptions of the curriculum. Theory into Practice, 25(1), 24-30.