Tuesday, June 1, 2021

AV#232 - Teaching Anne Frank's Diary in 2021-22



Connections: 1942-44, The Secret Annex – 2020-21, In Quarantine

Reading Anne Frank – a way to help our students reflect on a difficult year

“…later on, when everything has returned to normal…” The Diary of a Young Girl, May 2, 1943

In the fall of 2020 I recommended students read George Orwell (“Debate and democracy: How Animal Farm presents a uniquely teachable moment,” The Colorado Sun[i]). 

Here's another classic book for grades 7-9, well-matched, I believe, for this coming school year. There are risks, I realize that. If it only recalls the worst moments of quarantine for our 13- and 14-year-olds, if it reads like a nightmare they are desperate to wake up from, it will not meet the moment. However, my guess is that many students will identify with the main character. She is isolated, frustrated, cut off from “normal life.” She struggles to keep her spirits up – “in spite of everything.”[ii]

I am also aware that, in a million ways, The Diary of a Young Girl* is unlike anything young people experienced this past year. Teachers can make it clear the similarities only go so far; much of a year “maintaining social distance” due to a world-wide pandemic should not be equated with Anne’s ordeal. In hiding to avoid capture by the Third Reich. To avoid death in a concentration camp.

And yet, where literature allows us to see connections, where there is so much that an 8th grader in the United States will relate to in a journal written by a girl from her 13th birthday to her 15th, let’s not miss this opportunity. Here is a text against which students can reflect on their own trying year, now behind them.

 This former English teacher can imagine an abundance of writing prompts built upon a close reading of Anne’s Diary.

·        How was your 2020 like, or not like, Anne’s experience?

·        How did your spirits bounce up and down? What helped?

·        What did you learn about yourselves?

·        As you look back, can you see—through Anne’s reflections—some of your own struggles?

·        Are there passages from her Diary that help you explore what you just endured?

Teachers who know their students well will, of course, come up with better prompts. They know best how to create writing assignments that will engage their students’ emotions. All of us who believe in the value of finding the words to capture a difficult experience, who realize many young people are dealing with some degree of post-traumatic stress after a year cut-off from “normal life,” see the potential.  To provide teachers with a place to start, I present several moments in Anne’s journal that might resonate with an 8th grader next fall, after surviving the 2020-21 school year. 


CREDIT LINE: Excerpts from THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL: THE DEFINITIVE EDITION by Anne Frank, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, translated by Susan Massotty, translation copyright © 1995 by Penguin Random House LLC. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.


I use a terrific piece by Andre Peterson in The Wall Street Journal as my other text. It opened this way: 

   When Victoria Vial’s Miami middle school shut down last spring and her classes went online, it felt like the beginning of an adventure. “I was in my pajamas, sitting in my comfy chair,” the 13-year-old recalled. “I was texting my friends during class.”

   Then she received her academic progress report. An A and B student before the pandemic, she was failing three classes. The academic slide left her mother, Carola Mengolini, in tears. She insisted her daughter create to-do lists and moved the girl’s workspace into the guest bedroom to pull up her grades.



From “Loneliness, Anxiety and Loss: the Covid Pandemic’s Terrible Toll on Kids”

A year of school shutdowns and family trauma leads to social isolation, stress and mental-health issues

 By Andrea Petersen, The Wall Street Journal, April 9, 2021



The Diary of a Young Girl,

by Anne Frank

(published in 1947)

 Translation by Susan Massotty (published 1996)


“Academic woes”

  [The boys’ mother] worries that her sons’ struggles with remote learning will have serious long-term consequences. “What skills are they lacking now?”

  Jonathan, who is in fourth grade, is slated to take a crucial test this fall, the results of which will largely determine whether he will land a spot at the high-performing public middle school where (his brother) Marcus is now…. Marcus, who is in seventh grade, will be applying to high school. The school Ms. G and her husband want him to attend requires excellent grades.


  As the months piled up, Victoria found it hard to stay motivated to do her schoolwork. Her grades have started falling again. “Every day is the exact same,” she says. “You kind of feel like, what’s the point?” 

Sept. 21, 1942

I’m working hard at French, cramming five irregular verbs into my head every day…. I threw myself into my school work…since I have little desire to be a freshman when I’m fourteen or fifteen.


 April 5, 1944

For a long time now I didn’t know why I was bothering to do any schoolwork. The end of the war still seemed so far away... If the war isn’t over by September, I won’t go back to school, since I don’t want to be two years behind.

Overwhelmed, bored, changing hair-styles

   [For] Victoria, “the biggest blow came when her 78-year-old grandfather died of Covid-19.

  “It was super, super hard,” she says. “I didn’t know how to feel. All of the people I look up to, they are all, like, breaking down.”

  She grew anxious about going to school—afraid she would catch the virus and spread it to her parents.

   She turned to social media for solace and to stave off boredom. She gave herself makeovers and posted the results on TikTok. She cut her bangs, then added a pink streak to her hair. She added four new ear piercings with a safety pin....

   [Victoria] also can point to some high points during her otherwise tough year. Last summer, she and her friends created an arts-and-crafts camp for some younger children in their neighborhood. They named it “Camp Quaranteam” and earned $3,000.


Nov. 28, 1942

In bed at night…I get so confused by the sheer amount of things I have to consider that I either laugh or cry, depending on my mood. 

Jan 28, 1944

Whenever I come sailing in with a new hairstyle, I can read the disapproval on their faces, and I can be sure someone will ask which movie star I’m trying to imitate.

 March 27, 1943

We’ve finished our shorthand course… Let me tell you more about our “time killers” (this is what I call my courses, because all we ever do is try to make the days go by as quickly as possible so we’re that much closer to the end of our time here). 

Cats and Music

   [Victoria] snuggles with her kitten, George, a former stray her parents allowed her to keep because they thought a pet would help.



  Another escape has been listening to her favorite songs by artists like Drake, Kanye West and Post Malone.


March 27, 1944

[Anne could not bring her own cat into the Secret Annex, but she enjoys Peter’s cat. While listening on radio to a speech] by our beloved Winston Churchill….  Margot and I are united in a sisterly way by the sleeping Mouschi, who has taken possession of both our knees.

 April 11, 1944

There was a beautiful Mozart concert on the radio from six to seven-fifteen; I especially enjoyed the Kleine Nachtmusik. 

When it ends

   And Victoria has big plans for when the pandemic ends.

  “I want to go to a concert with my friends so badly,” she says. “I see me and my friends yelling the lyrics at each other and screaming the artist’s name and just jumping up and down.”


July 23, 1943

Most of all I long to have a home of our own, to be able to move around freely

Dec. 24, 1943

I long to ride a bike, dance, whistle, look at the world, feel young and know that I’m free, and yet can’t let it show.

Feb. 8, 1944

One minute I’m longing for peace and quiet, and the next for a little fun. We’ve forgotten how to laugh—I mean laughing so hard you can’t stop. 


Loneliness and friendships

  Mary Alvord, a psychologist in Chevy Chase, Md., says she is seeing two main issues in her practices: anxiety about school work and sadness over not being able to see friends.

  [Victoria] thinks about all the other kids in the world who are living through this time, too. It helps her feel less alone.

“Social anxieties”

  Mihika Deshmukh, 13, says she feels that “it’s been a lot harder to make friends and talk to new people.” The eighth-grader…has been attending school remotely since March 2020. During the entire pandemic school year, she has met up with a friend in person just once.

  She and her friends had been connecting via FaceTime and Zoom regularly, but in recent months those calls have dwindled. “I feel like a lot of us have drifted apart,” she says. “It has set in that I’m alone.”

  She feels sad and lonely at times. When she does connect with friends online now, they prefer to share their Spotify lists and listen to music…

  Children 12 and younger who had at least some in-person time with peers—in a Covid-pod, for example—also did better. The same wasn’t true for teens, however.

Nov. 19, 1942

I feel wicked sleeping in a warm bed, while somewhere out there my dearest friends are dropping from exhaustion or being knocked to the ground.

  Nov. 27, 1943

[From a painful dream of her good friend Hanneli, who is presumed to be in a concentration camp.]                             “Oh Anne, why have you deserted me? Help me, help me, rescue me from this hell?”                                            And I can’t help her. I can only stand by and watch while other people suffer and die.

Jan. 6, 1944

Much of the last six months of her Diary is about the hope for a real friendship with Peter.                                                        My longing for someone to talk to has become so unbearable…

 March 16, 1944

Anne gave a name to her Diary, “Kitty,” creating “a friend” to whom she can confide.                                                          The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I’d absolutely suffocate. 

“Mental toll”

  In studies on the aftermaths of other disasters—hurricanes, fires, the 9/11 terrorist attacks—from 30% to half of children have some initial negative reaction, including symptoms of anxiety, depression and overall distress, but bounce back. Another third are just fine from the start. The remaining 15% to 30% have persistent problems. They have physical symptoms like headaches and fatigue, as well as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress symptoms.


  Scientists say they expect the pandemic to cause deeper and more chronic suffering for more children than most natural disasters. “What makes the pandemic different is how long it has been going on and how many people are affected,” says Betty S. Lai, an assistant professor of counseling psychology at Boston College.

May 2, 1943

Mr. Van Daan predicts we’ll have to stay here until the end of ’43. That’s a very long time… But who can assure us that this war, which has caused nothing but pain and sorrow, will then be over?

 Feb. 3, 1944

I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die. The world will keep on turning without me, and I can’t do anything to change events anyway.

 March 11, 1944

When will I untangle my jumbled thoughts? When will I find inner peace again?

 April 14, 1944

Every day you hear, “If only it were over!” 

“Multiple blows”

Rarely have America’s children suffered so many blows, and all at once, as during the pandemic’s lost year.

  The crisis has hit children on multiple fronts. Many have experienced social isolation during lockdowns, family stress, a breakdown of routines, and anxiety about the virus.

  It is unusual to have so any challenges at once, and for so long. …the looming question for this generation is: What will the long-term effects of the lost year be?


  Harvard University researchers who have been following 224 children ages 7 to 15 found that about two-thirds of them had clinically significant symptoms of anxiety and depression… That is a huge jump from the 30% with anxiety and depression symptoms… before the pandemic.

  The biggest driver of child well-being during Covid is how parents are functioning, according to a survey of nearly 500 parents with children ages 8 to 17…

  Particularly delicate are the years from 8 to 14…. It is when children begin to form their identities and start to separate from their parents. It is also when mental-health issues such as depression and eating disorders can emerge.


  The good news is that in children this age, troubling trajectories can be relatively easily reversed with positive experiences and by supporting kids through challenges, says Dr. Ronald E. Dahl. These kids also are generally more receptive to guidance from caring adults compared with older adolescents. Psychologists and pediatricians say the majority of children will likely bounce back from the pandemic’s challenges, but some might struggle for years. 

July 26, 1943

[German planes are bombing the city of Amsterdam]                                Meanwhile, there was another air-raid alarm this morning… I’ve had it up to here with alarms. I’ve hardly slept…

Sept. 16, 1943

I’ve been taking valerian every day to fight the anxiety and depression, but it doesn’t stop me from being more miserable the next day…. The others here aren’t doing any better. Everyone here is dreading the great terror known as winter.

Oct. 29, 1943

She writes of the fights between Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan.                                            All the bickering, tears and nervous tension have become such a stress and strain that I fall into my bed at night crying and thanking my lucky stars that I have half an hour to myself.                  I’m doing fine, except I’ve got no appetite.

November 8, 1943

It annoys me to be so dependent on the moods here in the Annex, but I’m not the only one: we’re all subject to them.… As you can see, I’m currently in the middle of a depression.

I simply can’t imagine the world will ever be normal again for us. 


Connections matter. So do differences. In the spring and summer of 1944, before the Gestapo discovers the eight Jews hiding out in the Secret Annex, Anne–now turning 15–expresses her hopes and fears. Many passages are haunting. Depending on the context (e.g. age of the readers), teachers might want to be sure their students have some sense of the contrast between Anne’s experience in hiding—and their own trials this past year. Having taught 8th and 9th graders The Diary of a Young Girl, I know passages such as these (below) can be difficult to bear. But such passages might be studied and discussed—again, I also believe they lend themselves to writing exercises—to be certain we do not leave the Diary without reflecting on critical differences between Anne’s story and our own.

April 11, 1944

   We’ve been strongly reminded of the fact that we’re Jews in chains, chained to one spot, without any rights, but with a thousand obligations. We must put our feelings aside; we must be brave and strong, bear discomfort without complaint, do whatever is in our power and trust in God. One day this terrible war will be over.

April 18, 1944

   Father just got through saying he definitely expects large-scale operations in Russia and Italy, as well as in the West, before May 20; the longer the war lasts, the harder it is to imagine being liberated from this place.

May 3, 1944

   Every day I feel myself maturing, I feel liberation drawing near, I feel the beauty of nature and the goodness of people around me. Every day I think what a fascinating and amusing adventure this is! With all that, why should I despair?

May 9, 1944

   Oh, Kit, it’s such lovely weather. If only I could go outside!

May 26, 1944

   How much longer will this increasingly oppressive, unbearable weight press down on us?

   What will we do if we’re ever…no, I mustn’t write that down. But the question won’t let itself be pushed to the back of my mind today; on the contrary, all the fear I’ve ever felt is looming before me in all its horror.

   Let something happen soon, even an air raid. Nothing can be more crushing than this anxiety. Let the end come, however cruel; at least then we’ll know whether we are to be the victors or the vanquished.

June 6, 1944  [D-Day]

   Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation? The liberation we’ve all talked about so much… Will this year, 1944, bring us victory? ... Oh, Kitty, the best part about the invasion is that I have the feeling that friends are on the way.

July 15, 1944

   …for the longest time I’ve felt extremely lonely, left out, neglected and misunderstood.

   “Deep down, the young are lonelier than the old.” I read this in a book somewhere and it stuck in my head. As far as I can tell, it’s true.

July 21, 1944  [Next-to-last entry. After several paragraphs on Hitler, Germans, and the war, she writes:]

   …Were you able to follow that, or have I been skipping from one subject to another again? I can’t help it, the prospect of going back to school in October is making me too happy to be logical!


CREDIT LINE: Excerpts from THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL: THE DEFINITIVE EDITION by Anne Frank, edited by Otto H. Frank and Mirjam Pressler, translated by Susan Massotty, translation copyright © 1995 by Penguin Random House LLC. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. 

[i]Debate and democracy: How Animal Farm presents a uniquely teachable moment,” The Colorado Sun, by Peter Huidekoper, Jr., Sept.  27, 2020, https://coloradosun.com/2020/09/27/debate-and-democracy-peter-huidekoper-jr/.

[ii] I borrow that phrase from perhaps the most well-known passage in her Diary, written shortly before the Nazis discover Anne and the others in the Secret Annex—and send them off to Westerbook, the closest transit camp for Jews.

“… I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” (July 15, 1944)

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

AV#231 - (Teacher Appreciation) - Excellence: A teacher reminds us of what is possible


The Class - A Life-Changing Teacher, His World-Changing Kids,

and the Most Inventive Classroom in America

By Heather Won Tesoriero

The Class is such a pleasure. Fifty years ago I loved reading about inspiring teachers working in the inner city (36 Children, The Way it Spozed To Be, How Children Fail). To now read of another extraordinary educator—albeit in an entirely different setting, a wealthy suburb in Connecticut—is uplifting. It is not the story of a superman. The ten or so highly motivated teenagers we follow during their academic year, 2016-2017, are also thoroughly human; it is a relief to see they can procrastinate and screw up as well as the rest of us at age 17! And yet what this teacher and the students in his high school science class achieve is nothing short of amazing. I recommend The Class to anyone worried about the teaching profession, and to all who need a reminder of what is possible, in our schools, at their best. 

Andy Bramante is the 50-something teacher. After “two decades as an analytical chemist in corporate America,” he wanted something more rewarding. He became a teacher. By the fall of 2016 he had been teaching high school for over a decade.                                                             

Five moments that especially ring true for this former teacher.

Tesoriero’s account takes us to (the high drama at) a number of these fairs where Bramante’s students compete. The book concludes with a stunning list of their prizes, medals, and scholarships from, to name just a few: Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, International Sustainable World Project, Regeneron Science Talent Search, Google Science Fair, and Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair.

      1.      Bramante’s desire to connect with his students during their year-long investigations, as they prepare for competitive science and engineering fairs.     

“To him, the whole reason he got into the teaching business was to work side by side with kids, to develop the relationships and let the science unfurl in all of its glorious unpredictability. He thrives off the connections and the adventure—for both, he’s willing to go where few would and has put up with a good deal of shit in the process.”*

     [What did we just read? Which is why you must see how the next paragraph begins….]

“Actual shit. Andy has done everything from taking a kid to a sewage treatment facility to collect water samples from a football-field-sized pool of bubbling poop to visit a sludge site in the Bronx….” (127)


*Excerpts from THE CLASS: A LIFE-CHANGING TEACHER, HIS WORLD CHANGING KIDS, AND THE MOST INVENTIVE CLASSROOM IN AMERICA by Heather Won Tesoriero, copyright ©2018 by Heather Won Tesoriero. Used by permission of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

2.      You can be honored for your successes as a teacher, and no rookie, and still experience what teachers across the country complain about: a lack of respect.

   “Is he widely known as a superstar teacher? For sure. But the prior year, there was an incident that for him cast serious doubt on whether the powers that be actually value him, as opposed to the glory his program bestows on the school.” (129)

Later, the remarkable 15-year-old Ethan is writing a paper that he hopes to submit to a scientific journal. Andy and Ethan drive up to New Haven to visit a Yale professor who might oversee Ethan’s work. The Yale prof meets with the two of them. He is clearly impressed by the teenager’s understanding of membrane technology, but turns to Andy and says: “Why are you here?”

   “The exchange produced a sour aftertaste in Andy that hasn’t faded since. [He] sensed that the professor had no interest in or respect for a high school teacher.  Of course, [the prof] likely had no prior knowledge of Andy’s career, but regardless, his apparent disregard for someone teaching high school science bugged the hell out of Andy. While most of the time he can set aside his ego, this kind of disregard inflamed it….” (136)

 [“hasn’t faded since.” At a college reunion a former classmate asked about my job. I said, “I’m teaching high school English.” He walked away. No need to waste networking time, he must have thought, with this loser.]


3.      Tesoriero allows us to see the students mature during her year with this class. By June, a little wiser. More confident. As teachers we are often too much in the moment to see it. In looking back on a year— or even better, on how those once frail 9th graders are now seniors, the young men and women walking across the graduation stage—we are moved, deeply grateful to have played a role in their growth. 

   “Sophia’s never been a bold or supremely confident personality, despite her winning combination of beauty and brains… She tends to fold her body inward when sitting as if she’s trying to make herself as small and discrete as possible. She’s not boisterous and she never, ever brags...”

   “But when she works in the lab, there’s a palpable, visible difference in the way she carries herself. She has presence; she stands taller. She moves carefully, but with no hesitation.”

   “Her parents have noticed. ‘First of all, Andy has brought her out,’ says [her mom]. ‘He gets them to push themselves.’ When [her mom] took Sophia to the Norwalk Science Fair at the end of Sophia’s sophomore year, she was stunned to see her little girl in a suit, about to expound on her complex science project.” (181)


4.      Several parents in the privileged community where Bramante teaches can be unjust, even vindictive, such as when they blame him if their child does not win at one of the competitions. After one fair, when his own high school daughter did not make the cut, he feels responsible. [So many hours spent with his students, not enough time with his own child.] And then he gets a phone call.

   “It was a mother who launched into a bitter tirade about how he had not properly vetted the projects because had he done so he would have seen that her child’s project was too similar to another research kid’s, thereby squashing her child’s chance for a win. He had no capacity to take on the crazy mother. On a good day he was aghast at this kind of entitled behavior. But on a day when he and his kid were hurting badly, he could offer nothing to this woman. He quickly and pointedly told her he had his own problems and hung up.” (214) 

As I said, no superman. But so real.


5.      When we choose to teach later in life. Bramante’s career shift into teaching—in his 40’s—is unusual, but less rare than might be supposed. I have loved meeting folks in Colorado who chose this profession in their 30’s, or even later. The Class sheds light on the transition for Bramante—perhaps many others.

A close high school friend, Vinnie Bucci, had gone on to Brown University for a master’s degree in education and had taught high school English ever since.

   “Teaching has been Vinnie’s life work. He loves it. And it was Vinnie who was the first person to sense that his old pal, Andy Bramante, might be a gifted teacher…” 

       [Each year Vinnie and his wife invite friends to gather. Andy and his wife would attend.] 

   “… For years, Andy had been listening to stories from Vinnie’s teaching friends and colleagues about what they do, and in many cases, the stories culminated in some talk of making a difference in a kid’s life. These accounts seeped into Andy’s brain and stood in sharp contrast to his working life. He had had a good run, sure, but there was nothing in the way of changing anyone’s life.

    “So …knowing his corporate life was looking and feeling bleak, nothing but a dead end staring back, he started to put a plan in motion.” (188) 

No one can predict when or how the shift takes place. When it does, for many, it is a renewal. A second chance. A blessing. Nice, isn’t it, to hear someone say they “found their calling”—at whatever age. 

Bramante reflects on the school year

Bramante has much to be proud of. Tesoriero imagines how he might look back on the school year.

   “What he’ll mostly remember are the moments that happened far from the award stage—the ten P.M. night when Collin’s project came together, working with Romano in the woodshop to saw those windows into his test tubes, that cozy winter day with his hardworking female superstars. He’ll remember some of the tears over the various teenage crises, a clutch last-minute prom date he helped broker, his sense that he may never again have a class like this year’s seniors, with whom he formed an especially tight bond.”

   Tesoriero lets us know that Bramante is trying to figure out his future role in the school. But as she sees it: “… he can’t leave the kids. They are the ticket to his happiness. They’ve become such a central part of his identity, and most critically, they’ve given him that elusive thing so many of us seek: a tangible sense of mattering in this world.” (392)

A special THANK YOU to Ballantine Books for permission to use so many quotes from The Class.


Excerpts from THE CLASS: A LIFE-CHANGING TEACHER, HIS WORLD CHANGING KIDS, AND THE MOST INVENTIVE CLASSROOM IN AMERICA by Heather Won Tesoriero, copyright ©2018 by Heather Won Tesoriero. Used by permission of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 26, 2021

AV#230 - If education is not “training for the workforce,” then what is it? 13 answers


“The Business of Education - is Education” – continued. 

A follow-up to AV#229, Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt - cautionary words from 100 years ago

Excerpts and Quotes – on the purpose of education (2018-2021)

Comment on Another View #229: “You can’t just criticize; it’s not enough to whine about the market-based, business-oriented influence on public education’s mission. How about a positive affirmation of our mission?”


I have tried before. See Addendum, page 6, from AV#156 and AV#180. Here is another attempt.

I like to collect statements that offer a compelling vision of what education is for; of why we teach; of all we hope to provide young people in schools and in college. These statements are more traditional and, as I said before, “less monetary and mundane” than what is au courant: “training for the workforce.” I hope the four pages that follow raise our sights. I hope they remind us of time-honored hopes and beliefs. I hope they might even inspire future teachers. It is a noble profession. It is not just about career prep.

Critics will call the affirmations here old-fashioned. Not relevant (a popular charge). Or (warning – this will get a little wordy) TONE DEAF to the completely REASONABLE demand from the business community that education be PRACTICAL, that schools need to wake up (woke up?) to THE REAL WORLD and give students a chance to experience the PLANT/OFFICE/FACTORY before they graduate from high school (even though they will have another 45 YEARS OR MORE TO BE IN THE WORKPLACE AFTER THEY GRADUATE, but never mind, HERE’S A CHANCE TO GET THEM out of school and INTO OUR BUSINESSES ASAP, so that we can TRAIN THEM, so that they will graduate from high school – CAREER READY.  

Most of the arguments, beliefs, and examples that follow probably look familiar. Isn’t this what most of us heard from our elders as we were going through school? I cannot think of one K-12 teacher who talked about the workplace. In college, as an English major who took a number of Religion courses, only in one course (ED 376: Sociology of Education), as I recall, did the curriculum spend a minute on any career.   

Have our fundamental beliefs about the purpose of education changed so much in a generation or two?         



Descriptions of the purpose of education from passages that follow:

“to lead a fulfilled life                   a way to realize individual possibility”              intellectual flexibility”

“better able to function in a democracy”   “classroom experiences that reckon with the purpose of life”

“…the business of liberal education in a democracy is to make free people wise.” 

“… both academic training and preparation to live a meaningful and fulfilled life.”

“…we need knowledgeable, informed citizens who can guide this country in the proper direction.” 

“My students are learning to read, write, and multiply …

because those skills will help them navigate and understand the world.”  

what [parents] really care about … is that their kids are happy, have good lives,

and that they are fulfilled…”


A higher purpose - “Start with Why” (Simon Sinek)


“Kids hear adults describe them as lazy and selfish. I see my students being kind every day,” by Kyle Schwartz, Chalkbeat Colorado, Aug. 22, 2019.


It would be presumptuous of me to suggest the ideas here reflect the “true” purpose of school and college. See “The Many Purposes of Education”*—listing sevendifferent point(s) of view concerning what education should be all about.” My goal is to encourage readers to consider that we may have taken a detour, to ask if the current WHY isn’t small-minded and short-sighted, and to reflect on what might be a more meaningful purpose than the one that has taken hold of late.  *https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-the-aim-of-education-8417

   Have you ever asked a child why they are in school? As a third-grade teacher, I ask this question to my students each year. Their answers seem to follow a script. Almost every child will answer confidently that they go to school so they can learn. If you ask a child why they need to learn, many will tell you it’s so they can get good grades. Then, they might add, they will need good grades in order to go to college or so they can get a good job.                                                                         
   This thinking is so prevalent that it is rarely challenged. Workforce training, while certainly a benefit of schooling,  is not the goal of education. My students are learning to read, write, and multiply not so they can ace a test or snag a job, but because those skills will help them navigate and understand the world. I tell my students, “You are not here so you can make money in a decade. You are here so you can make a difference now.” The obligation of the school is to teach, but the obligation of the student is to contribute. 

(Kyle Schwartz is a third-grade teacher at Doull Elementary in Denver. Excerpted from I Wish for Change: Unleashing the Power of Kids to Make a Difference.)  https://co.chalkbeat.org/2019/8/22/21108696/kids-hear-adults-describe-them-as-lazy-and-selfish-i-see-my-students-being-kind-every-day


“Parents . . . Shifted Their Definition of Success” - Summit Schools cofounder Diane Tavenner on the secrets of student happiness, Education Next, Spring 2020. 

Senior editor, Paul E. Peterson, recently interviewed Diane Tavenner, cofounder and chief education officer of Summit Schools, and author of Prepared: What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life. 

   Believe it or not, not everyone wants to go to Harvard. What’s better is when students find a good fit that matches who they are: for economic reasons, geographic reasons, their future aspirations, all of those things. When you think about what each individual wants and help them drive toward that outcome, versus a single outcome for a select few, you can help everyone succeed. 

I can see that you can persuade students of that, but how about their parents? Their definition of success may be much more competitive than the one you’re describing here. How do you explain your mission to the parents?

    One of the things we have discovered as we’ve shared the Summit model in 40 states through the Summit Learning Program, and in conversation with parents across the country, is that parents actually have shifted their definition of success. It’s still important to them that their kids have economic stability in their adult lives, but [from podcast] “what they really care about in addition to that is that their kids are happy, have good lives, and that they are fulfilled … and have good relationships and all those things.”

   Most parents think other parents have a much more traditional definition of success that’s about status, power, and wealth, so they are quiet about their beliefs because they think they aren’t shared. The primary reason I wrote the book was to help parents realize they’re not alone. In fact, the parents who want their kids to be happy are a majority in this country.     


All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year. Those who forget WHY they were founded show up to the race every day to outdo someone else instead of to outdo themselves. The pursuit, for those who lose sight of WHY they are running the race, is for the medal to beat someone else.          Start with Why, Simon Sinek

   As parents, we need to be open and vocal about this. We’re hoping to build a movement and let the world know that lots of people believe in this new idea of success and how we should be preparing kids for the future.

This is an edited excerpt from an Education Exchange podcastwhich can be heard here. https://www.educationnext.org/parents-shifted-their-definition-of-success-diane-tavenner-interview/



From “How We Achieve Student Success,” Letter to the Editor, by Andrew Goldin, Chief Program Officer, Summit Learning Program, Education Week, Jan. 16, 2019.

   Our vision is to equip every student to succeed in college and lead a fulfilled life. Our approach to teaching and learning, which we call Summit Learning, is designed to put students on this path by fostering mastery of content knowledge, lifelong problem-solving skills, and habits that lead to success—like goal-setting and perseverance.



“A Progressive Defends Liberal Education,” by Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 2019).

   Noonan praises The Assault on American Excellence (2019), by Anthony Kronman, professor and former Dean at Yale Law School. She writes of his “idea that has largely been lost … that higher education is a fundamentally moral enterprise whose purpose is to help students become better human beings. Universities should be devoted not only to the ‘transmission of skills’ but the ‘shaping of souls.’”

   “The vocational approach,” Noonan writes, “involves the idea that life is all about work and the business of higher education is to prepare you for a profession. This approach … has a restricted sense of excellence. It asks, Kronman says, ‘What do I need to learn to be a successful lawyer or computer scientist?’ and ignores the more important, ‘What makes a whole life honorable and fulfilling?’”


“We Can’t Afford to Lose the Liberal Arts,” interview with Fred Beuttler, associate dean of the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies at the University of Chicago, Inside Academe, American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), 2018-19, No. 2.

The purpose of the liberal arts: “Former Dean of the College, F. Champ Ward, who helped oversee the University’s Basic Liberal Education for Adults program, looked at what the purpose of a liberal education is. He said that ‘Humans are born equal, but they are not born wise. Therefore, the business of liberal education in a democracy is to make free people wise.’ And that, to me, is the purpose of what we do. Ward said that in 1946, understanding very clearly the need for education for citizenship, to develop a wise people who are capable of self-governance.”

The liberal arts and citizenship: “If you go back to the purpose that Plato sees in [the liberal arts] in The Republic, it is self-governance. The liberal arts are for one’s own personal self-governance. But in a democracy, it becomes even more essential that citizens are capable of governing themselves and seeing the broad picture—and the best way to do that is through a liberal arts education.”  https://www.goacta.org/wp-content/uploads/ee/download/inside-academe-vol.xxiv-no2_.pdf


“Andrew Delbanco - A professor and foundation leader wants to expand study of humanities and encourage students to consider the purpose of life,” by Emily Borrow, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 19-20, 2020.

    “I have this old-fashioned view that the classroom experience can actually give young people a better self-understanding and a greater awareness of the world around them,” [Delbanco] says. When students read great texts together, whether they are wrestling with the difference between love and desire in Shakespeare or considering Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism, they ultimately learn how to think and listen to competing points of view. This makes them better able to function in a democracy, he says, “which, as we are often reminded of now, is a hard thing to do.’”

   As president of the Teagle Foundation, which supports liberal arts education, he is working to revive a humanities-based general education on colleges across the country. Together with the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Teagle Foundation is sponsoring a $7 million grant program over five years to expand access to classroom experiences that reckon with the purpose of life.

   “If 2021 has taught us anything,” he says, it’s that “we need to be able to have a reflective, deliberative conversation about who we want to be.”


Clayton M. Christensen (1952-2020) – “Professor Turned His Life Into a Case Study,” Obituary in The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 25-26, 2020.

    In a 2010 article and lecture, “How Will You Measure Your Life?,” … [Christensen] advised business-school students to devote part of their time to creating a strategy for living a good life. Having a clear purpose mattered more than mastering core competence and disruptive innovations, he said.


“The Great Divide,” book review of two books by Edward Fawcett, Conservatism and Liberalism, by William Anthony Hay, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 5-6, 2020.

    “The German statesman Wilhelm von Humboldt saw education as a way to realize individual possibility rather than, as tradition would have it, train for an occupation or a social role.”


“Scott Millar on University Governance,” Inside Academe, ACTA, 2018-19, No. 3

What is your view of the future of higher education and what can trustees bring to that?

   “… Higher education is heading in new directions. There are certainly revenue and expenditure challenges on the horizon. But at the end of the day, we need knowledgeable, informed citizens who can guide this country in the proper direction. And higher education is the way to ensure that future generations have the proper knowledge, the proper intellect, the proper analytical ability, and the proper decision-making ability in order to make prudent, good, and reasonable decisions for the future of this Commonwealth and the future of this country.”

(Scott Millar is a member of the Board of Visitors at Christopher Newport University.) https://www.goacta.org/wp-content/uploads/ee/download/inside-academe-vol.xxiv-no3_.pdf


“Featured Donor - Dr. Harold Eickoff,” Inside Academe, ACTA, 2018-19, No. 4.

   “Like ACTA, Dr. Eickhoff emphasizes that a comprehensive education includes both academic training and preparation to live a meaningful and fulfilled life.”    

(Dr. Eickoff was President of The College of New Jersey, 1979-1998) https://www.goacta.org/wp-content/uploads/ee/download/inside-academe-volxxiv-no.4.pdf


“What Happens at College Doesn’t Stay at College, The Current Campus and Its Impact on Society,” Inside Academe, ACTA, 2019-20, No. 1.

   Eugene Hickok, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, opened the panel by outlining how commoditization has ‘removed the soul’ from higher education. Co-driven by both students and institutions, the view of a college education as a consumer product has kept costs high and returns low. https://www.goacta.org/2019/11/inside-academe-vol-xxv-no-1/


“The Most Contrarian College in America,” by Frank Bruni, The New York Times, Sept. 11, 2018.  “What’s the highest calling of higher education? St. John’s College has some enduring answers.”

(My graduate degree is a Master of Arts in Liberal Education, 1990, from St. John’s, Santa Fe, N.M.)

    St. John’s College, which was founded in 1696 in Annapolis, Md., is the third-oldest college in America and, between its campus there and the one here [Santa Fe], has about 775 undergraduates. And I’m drawing attention to it because it’s an increasingly exotic and important holdout against so many developments in higher education — the stress on vocational training, the treatment of students as fickle consumers, the elevation of individualism over a shared heritage — that have gone too far. It’s a necessary tug back in the other direction.

   “Your work and career are a part of your life,” Dean Walter Sterling said when I met with him and the Santa Fe president, Mark Roosevelt. “Education should prepare you for all of your life. It should make you a more thoughtful, reflective, self-possessed and authentic citizen, lover, partner, parent and member of the global economy.”   https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/11/opinion/contrarian-college-stjohns.html




Published on Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 18, 2021 – not long after the storming of the U.S. Capitol. 

“How MLK’s views shaped my personal journey in the field of education,” by Corey Edwards, Your Hub, The Denver Post. Rather than quote MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Edwards points to “lesser-known wisdom” from King—in a piece he wrote as an undergraduate at Morehouse College in 1947. As Edwards puts it:

   “Wisdom that resonates deeply with me because of the career I’ve chosen, and the transformational impact this wisdom has had on my own life and the lives of many other people across the country… I point to a particular passage [from that essay, entitled ‘The Purpose of Education’] that unfortunately is as relevant today as it was when it was published.”

Education must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking. To think incisively and to think for one's self is very difficult. We are prone to let our mental life become invaded by legions of half truths, prejudices, and propaganda. At this point, I often wonder whether or not education is fulfilling its purpose. A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

(Edwards only quoted half of this passage; I added the rest of the quote to more fully reflect King’s statement on education’s purpose.) Edwards is the northwestern director for Western Governors University. https://yourhub.denverpost.com/blog/2021/01/how-mlks-views-shaped-one-coloradans-personal-journey-in-the-field-of-education/273029/


From previous issues of Another View – a more inspiring vision for the purpose of education.

     AV #156 - 2071 – Department of Workforce Development – A History – (Jan. 9, 2017)

                                         from Addendum (pages 18-21)

1.      Is education's foremost mission to train the state's workforce?

Steven Fesmire, Letter to the Editor, Education Week, Jan. 20, 2016

2.      Forcing college kids to ignore the liberal arts won't help them in a competitive economy.

Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post, Sept. 2, 2016 (excerpts)

3.      For the Sake of Humanity, Teach the Humanities - Liberal arts education is essential to good   citizenship -

Jim Haas, Commentary, Education Week, Nov. 14, 2016 (excerpts)

4.      The big threat on campus - Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg View, Dec. 5, 2016

5.      Bill Ivey's book: Handmaking America - Barry Hessenius, Barry’s Blog, Oct. 14, 2012

6.      Character-Building Beats Out Economy-Building as Goal

Catherine Gewertz, News in Brief, Education Week, Feb. 26, 2014

7.      The Heart of the Matter, a report of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, 

American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2013 (excerpts)



AV #180 - Mission statements from 10 high-performing [COLORADO] schools*–education for LIFE                                                                              (June 12, 2018)

Character, Values, Citizenship, and - no surprise - not a word about training for the workplace

*The Classical Academy (Academy 20); DSST: College View; DSST: Stapleton; DSST: Green Valley; KIPP - Northeast Denver Leadership Academy; Liberty Common Charter School (Poudre); Peak to Peak Charter School (Boulder); STRIVE Prep – Rise (DPS); Twin Peaks Charter Academy (St. Vrain); Vanguard School of Colorado Springs (Cheyenne Mountain).