Academics or Life Skills? Yes! No! Maybe!

Floor balance scales, foot lever and two dishe...
Image by Lichfield District Council via Flickr

Essential Questions are fun because there is no one right or wrong answer.

There are many answers, each with the ultimate potential to be right or wrong, or even change from right to wrong or back at any given time.

Our Essential Question today is: Academics or Life Skills? Should special education teachers emphasize one over the other, or is there a happy medium?

My answer: Yes.

My other answer: No.

My third answer: It depends.

I’m not trying to be difficult (there are those who will say I accomplish being difficult without any effort at all) but this is one of those questions of which the answer one gives depends entirely on one’s conception of the purpose of education.

My conception of the purpose of education is that it is essential that children be prepared to lead adult lives.


You bet!

This is the problem with statements that need to apply to everyone.

Even if we narrow the statement to apply only to special education students;

It is essential that children be prepared to lead adult lives to the best of their individual abilities.

Not much clearer, is it?

The problem is that in stating the purpose of education, we are trying to answer an essential question.

Every student, whether or not in special education, needs an individually crafted answer to questions of whether academics or life skills should be stressed and to what extent one should be stressed more than the other.

It gets more basic than that: For each individual student the definition of what is appropriate to teach changes as each student develops.

When it comes to education, there are no easy answers.

It is time we stopped looking for them.


This is the third and final posting of a string of blogs for the Classroom Insiders series at We Are Teachers. I appreciate the opportunity I’ve had to reach their audience.

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2 Responses to Academics or Life Skills? Yes! No! Maybe!

  1. No doubt the purpose of learning is to live a good life, but is that really a job that we can take on?

    What happens if we go back to the Founders who believed the purpose of a Public Education is to create a pool of citizens who are capable of supporting a democracy.

    It means that every graduate should be able to critically read a newspaper (either in print or online. It implies a knowledge of history, geography, science as well as statistics and a pretty good sense of how power works and who is doing what for what kind of reasons.

    Being a contributing member of a democracy takes a lot of empathy and critical thinking skills.

    I think we’ve been sidetracked by schools taking on the responsibility for job training and preparing kids to get the college credential. The fact of the matter is that jobs and careers are more the result of serendipity than a following a career. And a “college degree” is no guarantee of either a good job or critical thinking.

    Some years ago we changed from being citizens to being consumers. It’s probably time to go back.

  2. Like you, Deven, I go back and forth about where our focus should be. I think that in this age of continuously flowing information and interaction, one of the most critical skills kids must learn is how to deciper truth and filter out the immense amount of junk out there. We have a much different cultural context than when schools began and I think you are right on when you say each kids needs a unique plan. Thanks for making me think..and come up with more questions than answers!

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