The Line sat down with three well-known and passionate education advocates — an economist, a researcher and policy expert, and a sociologist — to explore what has shaped American beliefs about the purpose of education.

As part of that discussion, we asked each to share their thoughts about education’s value. Here’s what they told us, along with a deeper dive into how our divergent views and, perhaps, lack of political will are holding us back from creating the kind of education that’s good for each of us and for America too.

interviews with //

Aaron Pallas,
Eric A. Hanushek
and Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst


“I am an economist who has spent a large amount of time looking at the economic implications of education in our current schools. Of course, this is a narrower view than I hold, and that we ought to think about schools, but from an economic standpoint, I think, that very simply, the future of the U.S. depends upon improving the quality of its schools. What we know is the economic outcomes for both individuals and for the nation are highly dependent upon having skills.”

Eric A. Hanushek
The Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University

“A K-12 education, at minimum, provides the value of letting students acquire the skills they need to learn in other settings. So, reading and math and liberal arts are all part of being educated and setting the stage for what comes next. It’s also about identifying and providing gifted students with the stimulation they need to acquire the necessary knowledge to make a contribution to our society. Additionally, what we learn in school is as much about how to interact with others as it is about academic skills. All of these things are an important part of education. Nations that do a better job of that are more successful in terms of their growth and ability to adapt to a changing world.”

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst
Former Senior Fellow at the Center on Children and Families in the Economic Studies program at the Brookings Institution

“I think in the U.S., we have a very muddled conception of what the purpose of education is, but there are competing goals that are sometimes in conflict with one another around our hopes for what an education system can do, both for individuals and for society. And in fact, that individual versus society fault line is a very important one.”

Aaron Pallas
Arthur I. Gates Professor of Sociology and Education and Education Policy and Social Analysis Department Chair at Teachers College, Columbia University


“I would say that, rhetorically, we hear a lot of talk these days about social efficiency… But we’ve heard much less about education for democratic citizenship.”

Aaron Pallas

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” Thomas Jefferson

In this issue of The Line, there’s plenty of evidence of the kind of conflicting but well-intentioned objectives that Pallas points out, but there are also points of agreement and opportunity to advance common ground. Journey with us through the other articles from Issue 5 of The Line as education leaders make cases for reforms, from prioritizing and defining 21st century curriculum to exploring new delivery models.


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I thoroughly enjoyed this article. It’s the first time I’ve read from your publication, however ;it won’t be the last. I can agree that we need to return to creating citizens in our schools again. I do not believe that the primary focus of educating our children can be only to prepare them for a college education. Every child or person for that matter is created differently. No matter a child’s intelligence level, they may not want to go to college. I’m a perfect example. I graduated in the top 5 of my class and had no desire to go to college because I had no idea what I wanted to do. Other children know what they want to do, but it doesn’t always require a college education. I feel as a society, we have to find ways to change the mindset that college and the jobs that come along with the education are not the best or the only acceptable path. The most money does not equal the most success or happiness. However, we tend to discount our children who want to choose a different path. It is however imperative that we go back to creating good citizens while we are educating our children. Only by teaching our children how to be good democratic citizens again can we ensure they become healthy citizens whatever they choose to do as adults. I thank you for this wonderful article. Our kids are our future. We have to find a solution now.