The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he [sic, throughout] is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity.
Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.
The end of all education should surely be service to others. We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about the progress and prosperity of our community. Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others for their sake and for our own.
The drama of education is always a narrative of transformation. Act I is life as we find it—the given, the known or the received, the settled and the status quo. Act II is the fireworks, the moment of upheaval and dissonance, the experience of discovery and surprise, the energy of remodeling and refashioning. Act III is the achievement of an altered angle of regard, new ways of knowing and behaving, a new way of seeing and being. Act III, of course, will necessarily be recast in some future educational encounter as a new Act I.
This is the fundamental message of the teacher: You can change your life. Wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done, the teacher invites you to build on all that you are, and to begin again. There is always something more to do, more to learn and know, more to experience and accomplish. You must change your life, and if you will, you can change your world.
This sense of opportunity and renewal—for individuals, for whole communities and societies—is at the heart of all teaching; it constitutes the ineffable magic drawing us back to the classroom and into the school again and again. Education, no matter where or when it takes place, enables people to become more powerfully and self-consciously alive; it embraces as principle and overarching purpose the aspiration of people to become more fully human; it impels us toward further knowledge, enlightenment, and human community, toward liberation. Education, at its best, is an enterprise that helps human beings reach the full measure of their humanity.