“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” ~ John Dewey

When I watch kids walk into the building on their first day of school, I think about what I want them to be like when they walk out on their last day. I also think about what I want them to be like on the day I bump into them in the supermarket 10 or 20 years later. Over the course of three decades watching kids walk into my schools, I have decided that I want them to

  • be lifelong learners
  • be passionate
  • be ready to take risks
  • be able to problem-solve and think critically
  • be able to look at things differently
  • be able to work independently and with others
  • be creative
  • care and want to give back to their community
  • persevere
  • have integrity and self-respect
  • have moral courage
  • be able to use the world around them well
  • speak well, write well, read well, and work well with numbers
  • truly enjoy their life and their work.

To me, these are the real goals of education.

I want students to learn to use the resources around them. I want them to read something or see something they are interested in and follow up on it. I want them to have an idea and then get on the phone and call people they can talk to about it, or pick up a book and read more about it, or sit down and write about it. When I imagine one of my students as an adult, I imagine a person who is a thinker and a doer, and who follows his or her passions. I see an adult who is strong enough to stand up and speak for what he or she wants and believes, and who cares about himself or herself and the world. Someone who understands himself or herself and understands learning. Creativity, passion, courage, and perseverance are the personal qualities I want to see in my graduates. I want them to come upon things they've seen every day and look at them in a whole new way. I want them to feel good about themselves and be good, honest people in the way they live their lives. And, catchphrase or not, I want my students to score high on the “tests of emotional IQ” that life will inevitably throw at them over and over again.1

Finally, I want my students to get along with and respect others. Someone once asked me, “What is the most important thing a school does?” I replied that everything I believe about the real goals of education is not possible if the kids in the school do not care about and cannot get along with each other or with the people they meet outside of school. I believe that this is at the heart of what we mean when we talk about celebrating and respecting diversity, and it is at the heart of what makes a school and a society work.

When a kid leaves my school, I want her to have the basic life skills that will help her get along in the adult world—like knowing how to act in a meeting or how to keep her life and work organized. Basic stuff that too many schools forget about in their rush to cram in three sciences, three social studies, four maths, and so on. But I also want her to be the kind of person who will keep building on what she got in my school, who will keep developing skills, keep learning, keep growing. Each of us, if we live to be just 70 years old, spends only 9 percent of our lives in school. Considering that the other 91 percent is spent “out there,” then the only really substantial thing education can do is help us to become continuous, lifelong learners. Learners who learn without textbooks and tests, without certified teachers and standardized curricula. Learners who love to learn. To me, this is the ultimate goal of education. W. B. Yeats said it this way: “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.