Students Need To Know Why They’re In School

It seems that there are a lot of things students would change about school if they could.  For example,  MaplesAndMerriment thinks that students need a clearer understanding of why they are in school at all.

This is Post #4 in a 5-part series on what students think should change about school.


If I could change one thing about school, it would be motivation.

What I mean is that so often, we students lose sight of why we’re in school. It’s easy to say “because we have to be; because our parents are forcing us to,” even up to and through an undergraduate education. But I believe this is a terrible perspective on school and it’s a sure way to make the least out of our opportunities.

For some, school is a logical and important step on the road to a career, and nothing more. That’s fine! For others, school is a place to find oneself and to meet new people. Also fine! For some, school is the chance to learn about a wide variety of fascinating topics. Groovy! Others use school to dive into the things that they are passionate about, and to make their life work the work of learning. Rock on.

There’s a wide variety of ways in which we can use and appreciate our education. I may personally disagree with a few, but the only explanation that I really want to challenge students on is “I don’t know.” If you don’t know, why not sit down and think about it? Maybe it will give you a fresh insight or some much-needed motivation.

So, how could we change this issue of identifying student motivations in schools? I think it falls into the work of counselors and advisors. I admire both of these professions and I wish every school, at every level of education, could have a lower advisor-to-student ratio. It would be so helpful if each counseling session began with a discussion that promoted self-reflection in the student and asked the question: “Why are you here? What are your educational goals?” We students need to be reminded of this often. It’s easy to lose track and get bogged down by assignments and the semester schedule. But being asked to step back and look at the larger picture of our education could be extremely beneficial to individual students and to the education system as a whole.


Do you agree with MaplesAndMerriment?  Is it true that students are unclear about their reasons for being in school?  If so, how can we help them?  Leave your thoughts below.


The final post in this series will appear tomorrow: According to Ruth, pushing everyone to go to university is making university less useful.

Previous posts in this series:

Yesterday’s post: Katy believes that we need to change our attitude toward grades.

Tuesday’s post: Aewl thinks college should be reserved for those who can pay for it.

Monday’s post: Emily thinks school is too easy.


Are you a student?  What do you think should change about school?  Go to this post to leave your thoughts, or write me a message.

Image by Eduardo Schafer


8 thoughts on “Students Need To Know Why They’re In School

  1. Indeed my thoughts on why I’m at school is unclearly! The author made a good point here. School has become compulsory and in most countries free so education obviously tends to lose its real value.
    I’m a school because or else I wouldn’t be able to get a job and earn my living. That’s all. Lame. But can’t think of anything else.


  2. This post is particularly timely, given the current economic climate. Maybe if we all emphasize the POINT of education a little more, students will be more motivated and will spend more time thinking about their plans for further education and entering the workforce and will focus on ways, both in school and outside of school (think internships, volunteer work, or part time jobs), that they can prepare themselves for their future careers.


  3. I think it’s really easy to lose sight of the purpose of school. It’s a question I bring up frequently in English II & III. I try to make the students ask the bigger questions: If this is worthless and doesn’t matter in the long run, then why are you forced to do it? What difference does it make?

    More often than not, when we have those conversations, the students open up and talk about what has worth and what doesn’t. A few of them change their stances entirely. Will I ever get them to celebrate homework or the latest research paper? Doubt it. But I will get them involved in classroom conversations, and they will certainly be more likely to appreciate the information we are discussing, because, all of a sudden, it applies to them.


  4. First of all: Siobhan, thanks for posting these on your blog. What an awesome idea.

    I definitely agree with what MaplesAndMerriment said. Many, in fact, almost all of my friends who are now in college didn’t know – some still don’t know – what they want to do. Before they departed for college, I asked them, “so what do you want to do?” Their reply was, “Oh, I don’t know… maybe psychology?”

    I also think you’ve made a great point when you said that counsellors and advisors should identify the students’ motivations. Students have to start thinking about their own lives, because everything in high school is given to them without asking much in return, and that’s what creates “the flow.” Students go to college because their parents and teachers tell them. The media preaches it, as well. That’s why we develop this mindset of obligation. “We have to go.”

    I love what Army Amy said. I think, if schools applied some practical aspects to the theoretical lessons, then the students could have a clearer understanding of what their lessons look like in real life. For example, a business class could be involved in starting an actual business, or sponsoring one that exists, or something that, just to get the sense of the practical real-life application instead of just the theoretical. That might get the students to think, “oh this is how it is in real life? I love this! I want to do this.”

    Thank you for sharing! Cheers.


  5. I think MaplesandMerriment made a great point! Many of my friends and classmates in university were just going through the motions without real interest or motivation. I’m not sure whether this is addressing the appropriate problem, but I found that interesting classes motivated me much more than boring ones I couldn’t wait to get out of. Simply, having lively discussions about topics that currently have meaning for us members of this young generation and demonstrating how the things we learn in class will be useful in life (whether in geography, nutrition, or math) made my university classes much more interesting and, as a result, motivating (well, for me anyway.)


  6. Concerning motivation: I think part of the problem with generating motivation among students (whether the goal is for students to motivate themselves, or for instructors to try to boost motivation) is that when it comes to educaiton, “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” That is, we may be trying to get students to feel motivated about a type of education that we’re able to offer, when what we should be doing is offering a different model of education that more suits the students who feel unmotivated. Instead of trying to make students more enthusiatic by adding bells and whistles, maybe we should be offering some students an entirely different product. We currently allow students who are academically motivated the chance to specialize in academics — AP classes, access to college classes for high school students, etc. We do not allow students who are more technically-oriented or vocationally-oriented much access to their interests in high school — and I offer as an example a relative who seriously hated school, but became an accomplished carpenter while still in high school, and is now a successful contractor. Another example: a relative who was equally as bad at academics, but was a sought-after caregiver of the elderly, again already working in high school. In neither case was the high school even aware of these teenagers’ talents and outside employment.


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