The Rise of 'Purpose Education' — A Recipe for Fulfillment ... or Snowflakes?

OZY At the School for Tourism and Hospitality in a low-income Bronx neighborhood, high school sophomore Isaiah was constantly distracted and unmotivated in class. Then something changed. Within a single year, he became engaged and excited, in school and at home. His teacher says the transformational change came about through a new curriculum. The program, called Project Wayfinder, encouraged Isaiah to talk about his background and his personal struggles with peers. To his surprise, he found empathy and support.

Called “purpose education,” this school of thought incorporates ideas from the mindfulness movement and social-emotional learning, and goes further. It aims not only to help young people figure out which college to attend or what kind of career to pursue but also helps them understand that they have control over their choices, how to ask for help and how to figure out what’s important to them. Then, it helps them develop tools to get there. While at first blush, purpose education sounds crunchy and easy to dismiss in favor of the traditional fundamentals of education like math, science and English, it’s rapidly catching on.

Since 2013, at least six education organizations have emerged across the U.S., in public, charter and private schools, to design curricula for such programs. The interactive curricula include games — like one Project Wayfinder activity in which the only way to win is to ask for help. But these initiatives are also dividing the education fraternity along the lines of those who believe they’re essential and those who see them as distracting from efforts to better prepare students for jobs.

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