The Goals of Education and Meaningful Student Involvement

“You cannot prepare kids for living in a democracy unless they experience living in a democracy.”

– Deborah Meier

Meaningful Student Involvement should be present throughout the goals of education and student success.


Defining the purpose of schools focuses the direction of schools, teachers, and students. (Brennan, 1996) While some originally intended for public education to provide basic learning for successful democratic citizenship, others saw schools mainly as a way to support the economic workforce. Today, educational goals and “success” have become defined by student performance on standardized tests, in addition to measures like student attendance and graduation rates.

While these might be part of the purpose of education, many school reformers are seeking ways to broaden the goals of education to include students’ social, emotional, and intellectual development, as well as helping students gain the skills needed to build a better and more democratic world. (Dewey, 1948)

Meaningful Student Involvement positions students as equitable partners with adults in order to identify the goals of education, and to determine what student success actually is. As explored other places on this site, that doesn’t mean they are handed the keys to schools and told to take education wherever they want it to go. In a democratic society, there should be lots of opportunities for lots of people to become thoroughly engaged in examining, re-examining and moving forward goals of education.


For instance, students in Ontario have a variety of ways to be meaningfully involved throughout the education system. At a 2015 leadership conference, they designed the following graphic to illustrate what they thought the future of schools should be.

Ontario Students Vision for Education
Graphic recording created in Ontario from Meaningful Student Involvement in conversations about the goals of education.

Students attending the Ontario Educational Leadership Council’s camp helped create the visual above to represent the ideas of the students about their future (and others) in education. The students were asked to think about what they need from us to be successful. What kinds of things are they looking for to support them in their educational path. The students had some time to reflect, discuss and exchange ideas that they felt would help them, and future generations become successful citizens of Ontario. This graphic has been shared with school district boards and a variety of other people throughout the province. Its inevitably helped indirectly form new ways of seeing students, seeing schools and envisioning the future. More importantly though, it has directly informed formal policy-making, too. Learn more here.

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