The Debate Continues: What Is The Purpose Of A School?

The Debate Continues: What Is The Purpose Of A School?

Recent posts on the New Normal about Jewish Day Schools and students with disabilities here and here are part of an important dialogue.

They ask the question “What is the purpose of an education and a school?” And the question must be asked, regardless of the nature of the school. Schools are not just places where the parents are “the customer;” nor are the students, or the donors.

Schools, all schools, serve a larger purpose. Whether or not your child has a disability, or whether or not you have children, schools have a social purpose.

So here are some more questions.

Do we want institutions supported by the community at large to be allowed to discriminate against some members of our community? Are we, as a people who has been segregated, rejected and excluded in our history willing to condone the continuation of these policies and practices?

When we talk about what a school should do, do we think about developing character? About the “soft skills” of acceptance, understanding and flexibility that are crucial to an adult in higher education, in the workplace and in success in life? What about the skills that promote lifelong learning and intellectual curiosity?

Do parents demanding stellar academics as the only benchmark of a “good school” know enough about child development, social and emotional learning and the factors that go into producing successful Jewish adults?

I think I’ve answered that question.

I, for one, am tired of excuses, of saying that the community cannot do it all. I am still waiting to hear a viable argument as to why that is true.

Steven Eidelman is the H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Human Services Policy and Leadership at the University of Delaware. Professor Eidelman is a former Executive Director of The Arc of the United States and currently also serves as the Executive Director of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation. He is a past President of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) and is Senior Advisor to the Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics. He is on the Board of The Open Society Institute’s Mental Health Initiative, based in Budapest. His recent efforts have focused on leadership development for practicing disability professionals and on implementation of Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, focusing on deinstitutionalization.

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