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A Glorious Fourth

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The weather is abysmal almost everywhere--we're on our umpteenth consecutive day of rain and absurd humidity--and the Republic is pretty downhearted, with one demoralizing revelation after another. The world at large doesn't look much better--how bad can it be when a military coup is cheered as an improvement, as in Egypt?

But the future stands before us. Around where I am, the future's not very tall; mostly elementary school age and younger. Yesterday's classic (very) small-town parade here snuck itself in between deluges; firefighters tossed candy while kids scrambled to pick it up, sweltering clowns biked in figure-eights between fire trucks, and the pipe band would have scared any enemies off the battlefield. It was a fine moment for children, as the Fourth should be. It's the day when kids start answering, What grade are you in? with next year's ordinal--a day for being a little more grown up.

Most of the children we encountered at the parade have a dozen years and more of school ahead of them, school in an era that promises to be something quite special. Change is in the air; these kids are going to have much of their education mediated by technology, and by the time they get to college it seems almost certain that the paradigm--structure and cost--will have somehow shifted, hopefully for the better. Maybe Oregon is offering a preview of one answer.

In general I am pleased to see more and more independent schools getting the message of change, too: pick up your game, be true to who you are, push the envelope a little harder, show faith in your faculty by expecting a little more of them (and by helping them to do what you need them to do), engage with the world. I see signs that we're ready to open ourselves to new influences and new perspectives, whether we call them innovations or just novel ideas.

I have an inkling of the travails of public schools--I read the papers and follow Diane Ravitch, after all--and I hope I am sensing at least a tremor in the foundations of the fortress of testing that the educational-industrial complex has been constructing over the last ten or fifteen years. The worst of the public teacher-bashing of a year or so ago seems to have abated. Maybe it's just that the education debate is taking a back seat to Edward Snowden and the Kardashians, but I am cautiously hopeful that it will all get better. There's a mountain to climb and a mountain of money to find and spend, with equity still a long way off, but maybe we've started the journey.

On a day like today I even wonder whether the mess we've made of our environment and the pretty clear line between what Thomas Friedman referred to as "Global Weirding" and human agency has people considering the future--and their children's future--in a more thoughtful way. It was hard to look at all those sweaty kids with candy-smeared cheeks at the Fourth of July parade and not think about what the planet's going to be like when they're grown up. Maybe such little faces are turning out to be a real incentive for those who are already grown up to do a little less arguing and a little more compromising, less accusing and more empathizing, less retrenching and more really strategic thinking.


Engage with Peter on Twitter: @pgow

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