Schools Teach More Than Just The Three R’s (A GMAT Practice Essay)

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“Schools should be responsible only for teaching academic skills and not for teaching ethical and social values.”

Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the opinion expressed above. Support your point of view with reasons and/or examples from your own experience, observations, or reading. (used with permission from

Absolute statements are a very dangerous way to make an argument, especially one as important as this one.  Schools play a key role in modern Western society, a much more complex one than simply imparting facts.  In fact it would be impossible to teach academic skills without influencing ethical and social values, even if such an outcome were desirable.  And were it possible to solve all of the practical issues in making such a “dream” exist, would a cohesive society be able to survive, let alone function?

The majority of American children attend a public, private or at-home school from the age of six until at least the age of eighteen.  For approximately 25 hours a week, the nation’s children are provided with lessons to be learned, with the goal of having everyone be knowledgeable and skillful in a “minimal” way.  Children are required to interact with their teachers and with other students.  They are given a daily structure, told when to eat, when they may play.  There are rules, such as no running in the hallways, and no chewing gum in class.  All of these intangible factors, and countless more, are what “school” teaches a child.  Just look at the success (and folksy, but true, wisdom) of the book “Everything I ever neeeded to know I learned in Kindergarten”.

Learning how to function together is an important part of building a society, and children must be taught this at an early age, with a fairly clear standard set out for the children.  Although we like to envision America as a “free” society, there are so many commonalities between us that we take for granted every day.  And these commonalities exist not only for convenience and safety, but they serve to hold a society together.  Common ethical and social values are what define a society, and although there is variation to some extent, the majority of values are indeed common across any functioning society.

So the removal of formal teaching of ethical and social values seems detrimental to society, and the informal (intangible) teaching of such values would be quite impossible.  But even if those two arguments were not in place, it would be practically impossible to implement such a solution.

First of all, teaching such basics as English and History would be severly crippled by the inability to use judgment statements which incorporate ethical or social values.  How can one discuss the American Revolution without discussing why it was fought?  Even basic math and science skills would be much more difficult to teach: without a proficiency in word problems, children would have a very tought time learning Algebra or Physics.  Although this example might seem a bit extreme, if society were to determine that ethical and social values should not be taught in schools, that same society would have to define what exactly that means, and with “gender-bias” and “race-bias” accusations already existing in the school systems, more rigid controls might forever cripple the abilities of schools to teach our young.

With that said, a line must be drawn somewhere.  Although I do not agree with this very absolute statement, the government and parents in particular, and society in general, must be concerned about what ethical and social values our schools are, and are not, teaching.  In order to keep our society functioning at its best, there should be a constant vigil about what values the society wants to place on all its members, and what values should be left to smaller sub-societies (e.g. religions or even individuals) to determine for themselves.


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