Parent perceptions of the purpose of public education

Date of Completion

January 2005


Education, Philosophy of




Over the years volumes have been dedicated to tracing the history of education in America. Historians, political analysts, economists, educators and philosophers have all written about the reasons behind a public education system however little has been written about what parents think. Parents can be viewed as the “consumers” of public education. They make choices as to the type of schooling environment, public, private, parochial, charter and home to name a few, in which their child will learn. It is important from a policy perspective, to gain a greater understanding of what parents expect from the educational experience. The purpose of this study was to discover what parents perceive as the purpose of education and then to situate their perceptions in the context of traditional theory. ^ Five parents “new” to the public school system were interviewed. The participants resided in an affluent Connecticut suburb. The interviews were framed in an interpretive paradigm using a phenomenological approach. Bowles and Gintis (1976) in their book “Schooling in Capitalist America” discuss four different interpretations of the process of educational reform. The four interpretations are the Democratic Imperative, Popular Demand, Social Control, and Technological Interpretation. The authors propose a fifth interpretation—Capitalist Control. These five interpretations served as the basis for the conceptual framework for the study. In analyzing the data garnered in the interviews, parent portraits were developed and a cross case analysis was conducted. ^ The research revealed three major findings. The parents strongly believed that schools have a clear responsibility to not only teach society's mores but to create an environment that fosters conformity. Parents showed little support for what would traditionally be called civics education. Furthermore, parents expressed a powerful conviction that the experience of education was much more important than the content of education. ^