Since my post on chaining our young folks up in the city garage after we educate them so they won’t leave town, I’ve been thinking.  What is the true mission of a public school?

I remember when the Little Falls School District (#482) called on members of the community to help determine a new mission statement.  The result was atrocious and looked like it had been written by a large committee.  (There are some things, many things, that large committees should not do.  This is one of them.)  The mission statement was a 69-word run-on sentence that never once used the word “educate.”  (I’m not kidding on the 69-word thing.)  I’m not sure how long this particular mission statement was in effect, but it was current for the 1999-2000 school year.  It read . . .

“The Little Falls Community Schools, leading in the development of partnerships with families and the community, will prepare responsible citizens who embrace diversity, lead in environmental stewardship, believe in the unlimited learning potential of themselves and all others, and commit to lifelong learning – accomplished through the innovate use of technology and individualized learning opportunities with interdisciplinary curricula that meets the needs of every student in environments that promote learning.”

Haven’t the people who wrote this ever heard of editors?  Notice that the word “learning” is in here four times.  The students will learn.  They’re taking the action.  The School District will “prepare,” a namby-pamby word that doesn’t take any sort of stand.

I’m not entirely sure where this whole mission statement thing originated, but the structures of mission statements tend to blow with the vagaries of the latest business guru.  I, for one, prefer a mission statement that tells everyone the purpose of an organization with such simplicity and ease that everyone (even the youngest child) associated with the organization can remember it and spit it back out again.  It also helps the organization in actually carrying out that mission.  I bet not a single person who helped write the unwieldy mission statement above could ever recite it.

Thankfully, the Little Falls School District has since changed its mission statement.  It now reads . . .

“We will prepare our students (ages birth through adulthood) for academic & community success by providing a broad range of quality educational and co-curricular opportunities in a safe, collaborative environment through fiscal integrity.”

Better, but still difficult to remember.  Hmmm.  How can we edit a mission statement for a public school down to its essence?  What exactly do schools do?  Educate, right?  Who are they educating?  Students – the age matters not.  What are they educating them for?  That’s the tough part of the equation, the part that can have several answers.  There are so many reasons for educating students.

If we look at Kate Zak Davis’ statement from the previous “chaining in the garage” post, it sounds as though she would like to educate students to stay in Little Falls.  How about this for a mission statement?

“The Little Falls School District will educate students so they will live in Little Falls the rest of their lives.”

Sounds silly when written out, doesn’t it?

The business community might have a few things to say about the school’s mission statement.  From its standpoint, it might like to see the following mission statements:

“The Little Falls School District will educate students so they can work in factory jobs.”

Or . . .

“The Little Falls School District will educate students to work in low-paying jobs.”

Or, how about this?

“The Little Falls School District will educate students to work as expendable cogs within a system.”

Or . . .

“The Little Falls School District will educate students to never question authority.”

Come to think, those last two suggestions might be what both the School District and our current federal government would like to see.

With all of the school’s emphasis on testing, perhaps this mission statement might do:

“The Little Falls School District will educate students to pass mandatory state and federal tests so that we can get funding for the district.”

Some would argue that the following should be the district’s mission:

“The Little Falls School District will educate students so they can go to college.”

Veering off a bit, we could say that the mission of No Child Left Behind is . . .

“We will educate students with no allowances made for differences in aptitude or ability.”

See how much easier these mission statements are to remember?  With these statements, you can easily ask yourself if the organization is achieving its mission.  Although some of the above statements are pretty crass, they’re fairly close to the truth for what some people are demanding of the schools.

Don’t like these mission statements?  Not what you want to see your district doing?  How about this one?

“We will educate students to become independent thinkers who contribute to society.”

Twelve words.  Not bad.

The taciturn bubbler,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel.

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