The greater purpose of education

December 12, 2008

Re: Education policy

Dear President-elect Obama,

I was at Grant Park on election night. You reminded us of the changes that occurred in the last 100 years, and asked us to dream of what life would be like in 100 years. It is important to think how we might measure the success of these changes, as the essential element for determining our future is not the measurement itself, but the unit of measurement, for that reveals something deeper about ourselves and our values.

Ultimately, the measure of life must be made by each of us, both personally and socially, by the lives we lead, the meanings we hold, and the moments we share.. Each of us, and all of us, must determine what it means to have a life worth living. This is not an abstraction, but rather, a moment by moment deliberation that we make now, and that we will also make one hundred years from now: How to live?

That is the greater purpose of education – to enable each us to determine who we want to become, and then to help us in that becoming.

Which is quite a different vision of education from what many of us experience now – the one that focuses on technological processes and subject-matter knowledge and standardized tests.

The souls of ourselves and our children are at stake. What will prepare us for the unforeseen challenges of the next one hundred years is not the ability to fill in the right bubble, but the ability to ask questions that understand both the urgency of now and the direction of our future. These are questions that cannot be answered in number 2 pencil with desks separated. Indeed, these are questions yet to be asked. However, we know they will have to be answered by the actions of people coming together to remake the worlds around them. And we know that that each life is beyond measure.


Wade Tillett

(submitted to 12/12/08)