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Why Do We Go To School?A start-up for classroom conversation

Maura van der Poel


Education or qualification is often seen as the main value of school. However, according to Biesta (2015), there is too much an emphasis on qualification and too little on socialization and subjectification, two other domains that he distinguishes within education. This is a problem that occurs not only in scientific papers, but also in our lives. It can be hard to find motivation for school, especially when you are not aware of the aim of what you are doing. Starting with this problem, “Why do we go to school? – A classroom conversation” was invented. It is a series of three lessons of approximately one hour in which students are taught about the three goals of school and motivation and they are encouraged to reflect on why they go to school. The redesign consists of three parts that can help teachers conduct this series of lessons: an instructional manual for teachers, worksheets for students and an instructional video for students. The manual is written for teachers, helping them shape their classes and urging them to take a look at their own experiences with motivation and the goals of school. The ultimate aim of “Why do we go to school? – A classroom conversation” is to create more awareness for the tripartite goals of school, and to bring teacher and student closer together through the classroom conversation.


The educational challenge for which we have made a redesign is the following. The main question we asked ourselves in the beginning of our problem analysis, was “why do we go to school?”. We found that in education, there are three main goals: qualification, socialization and subjectification (Biesta, 2015). There is too much emphasis on the goal of qualification, and too little on the goals of socialization and subjectification. This is a problem, because the three goals are equal in importance and can each be a reason to motivate students to go to school. Whenever students are not aware of the three goals, they will not be able to create a full image of what they are doing. In order to enhance student motivation, it is of great importance that the students are aware of the relevance of what they are doing (Katz & Assor, 2007). This challenge is not only something that we have found in the literature. Both of us observed that many peers from high school placed emphasis on qualification, while further personal development got more to the background. Teachers often focused on working towards a moment of examination and grades were most of the time a hot topic in school. In fact, we were not aware of the three goals of school when we went to high school. 

Teachers, especially mentor teachers, should be here to help students find an answer to the question “why do we go to school?”, in order to get motivated to go to school. In our experience, classroom conversations have always been somewhat awkward. The practical problem that we determined thus became: how does one get the classroom conversation about the question “why do we go to school?” started? This problem, with the underlying problem that there is too much emphasis on qualification in education, is something we tried to tackle in our redesign.


Our redesign consist of the following three formats: (1) instructional manual for the teacher, (2) worksheet for students, (3) instructional video. The first two documents are delivered as PDF files and the third one is delivered as a YouTube video. Those three products are ready to be in the classroom. The instructional manual is for teachers: here the teachers are able to find the detailed step by step instructions on how they can prepare and conduct their lectures. You can see most of our redesign plan in this document. The worksheet for students is a study material that the students use during the classifying exercise part of each lecture. The sheets are ready to be printed and distributed for the students. The instructional video is the video that teachers can use as the starter of the lectures as well as the powerpoint (by pausing the video). With simple infographic design, the key concepts each lesson features are explained in an accessible tone. Each lesson has its own instructional video, so three video should be ready for actually conducting the lecture series. However, as our MVP, we only created the video for the first lecture at this moment. Still, you can get the general sense of how the video looks like. We hope you enjoy our products!

Redesign format 1: “Instructional manual for teachers”

Please click here to access the instruction manual.

Redesign format 2: “Worksheets for students”

Please click here to access the worksheets.

Redesign format 3: “Instructional video” 


For this redesign we have created a set of lessons to teach students more about the three goals of school, based on the idea of Gert Biesta (2015), in order to answer the question “why do we go to school?”. Biesta argues that there are three goals of education, namely qualification, socialization, and subjectification. The practical problem we stated was: how does one get the classroom conversation about the question “why do we go to school?” started? An underlying problem we stated is that there is too much emphasis on qualification in the answer to the question why we go to school. In search of a solution to this problem, we found that a series of lessons about the goals of school and motivation would be the best way to tackle the problem. We chose a classroom setting because the problem is about school and the classroom setting gives the possibility to teach students something while they are all together. We selected the mentor teacher as the suitable teacher because he is supposed to have a more personal relation with his students. This base is important, because the subjects you are discussing can be confidential. Also, the discussions in class can contribute to the teacher-student relationship. In this way, the mentor teacher will have a more complete view of what is going on in his students’ lives. We chose to create three lessons with a followup idea, because there were three central themes we wanted to discuss. Besides, it has to be overseeable for the mentor teacher, who will have to teach the three lessons. In this way, it will not be too much of an effort to put this project into trial with the risk that it is not refined yet. The followup idea we created is based on the idea that whenever you have to teach something, you really have to understand what you are teaching. The overarching goal of instructing the students to create a (part of) a lesson for younger students is to check if they really understand what they have been taught. In the three lessons, the concept of the power of three is something that we have used (Moore, 2017). The structure of each lesson is the same: first, there is an introduction, next there is an exercise in which the students apply the material of that lesson, and the lesson will be finished classically with repetition of what they have done that lesson. The exercise is there to check if the students understand the matter. Jonas Voorzanger discussed in his guest lecture that there should always be a goal and supervision whether that goal is accomplished, so we tried to apply this in our redesign by adding these exercises. 

For the first lesson, we decided the main subject should be the three goals of education (Biesta, 2015). Biesta states that there is too much emphasis on qualification and too little on socialization and subjectification. For that reason, we decided the first lesson should focus on the fact that there are three goals of school, so that students are aware of this tripartite. 

The subject of the second lesson is motivation theory. We decided this is an important second subject to discuss, because goals are closely associated with motivation. Besides, the main question during the lessons is “why do we go to school?”, a question that cannot be answered without keeping motivation in mind. In order to say something useful about motivation, the students should be taught about self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2020). Because this is a very broad subject, we decided to focus on the motivation continuum, which is based on self-determination theory (Visser, 2017). 

The third lesson is about Bildung, because this can help reflect on your life and decisions you have made or will make. The lesson focuses on the answer to the question “why do we go to school?”, which is the overarching question in all of the three lessons. Self-awareness about motivation and the goals of school is the central subject in this lesson, and the view ahead makes this part valuable for the future as well. This we find important because the question why you do something and what motivates you is something you can ask yourself for your entire life.


  • Biesta, G. (2015). What is Education For? On Good Education, Teacher Judgement, and Educational Professionalism. European Journal of Education, 50(1), 75–87.
  • Biesta, G. (2020). Risking Ourselves in Education: Qualification, Socialization, and Subjectification Revisited. Educational Theory, 70(1), 89–104.
  • Furrer, C., Skinner, E., Pitzer. J. (2014). “The Influence of Teacher and Peer Relationships on Students’ Classroom Engagement and Everyday Resilience.” In: NSSE Yearbook: Engaging Youth in Schools: Evidence-Based Models to Guide Future Innovations. Teachers College Record. 
  • Katz, I., & Assor, A. (2007). When Choice Motivates and When It Does Not. Educational Psychology Review, 19(4), 429–442.
  • Kelchtermans, G. (2009). “Who I am in how I teach is the message: self‐understanding, vulnerability and reflection.” Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 15:2, 257-272, 2009. DOI: 10.1080/13540600902875332. 
  • Moore, M. [TEDx Talks]. (2017, 20 December). The Power of Three [Video]. YouTube.
  • R. Ryan and E. Deci. (2020). “Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation from a self-determination theory perspective: Definitions, theory, practices, and future directions.”
  • “The motivation continuum” made by C. F. Visser, found in