Having been a part of the American education system in some capacity for 25 or so years, I am often presented with many opportunities to reflect on education.
What is education? Broadly construed - I like starting with broad definitions - education is a process by which knowledge is transferred from one party to another. Given this very broad definition, lots of things can count as education, and that's as I think it should be. Anytime some individual or entity passes on knowledge to another individual or entity, you have education going on.
Now, there are different sorts of knowledge. In education, I take it that two types of knowledge are transferred. First is "know-how" knowledge. This is knowing how to do perform a particular task, like riding a bike, playing the violin, or baking a cake. The other type of knowledge is propositional knowledge. This is knowledge of facts. It is also called "know-that" knowledge. These two types of knowledge are distinct. I can know facts about playing the piano without being able to play the piano. Likewise, I might be able to play the piano without ever learning the facts about what piano playing amounts to.
Alrighty, so the positive claim that there all sorts of different kinds of education going on in every society is clearly uncontentious. What's more interesting is the normative aspect of education. What kind of education is good? Is society morally obligated to educate its members? If so, how?
Let's consider the institute of education in American culture. By "institute" I mean some kind of social structure that plays a role in forming, changing, or reinforcing culture. What is the function of the institute of American education? What sorts of knowledge should American education pass on?
This is clearly an important question to answer, since we cannot evaluate the success of American education without first establishing what it is supposed to accomplish. But, before we can answer, we'll need provide further clarifications.