Imagine walking in on a group of friends in the middle of a conversation.
If your friends are jerks, they might just keep talking while you stand there, trying to figure out what they're discussing, wondering whether you should just leave. But if they're kind and thoughtful, one might greet you and say something like, "Hey, I'm glad you're here! Let me tell you what we've been talking about."
It's a simple courtesy, but there's a lot going on in an invitation like this. By offering to catch you up on the discussion, your friend implies that they think you'll be interested and they want you to be involved; they want to hear your point of view. Maybe they need your advice. Or maybe they just want to see whether you notice something they didn't.
But at the same time, they understand that you won't be able to contribute until you understand the main points of the conversation so far.
That, in a nutshell, is what your education is all about. Throughout history, we've been having this amazing, important conversation about what this world is, how it works, who we are, and what we should do.
And now that you're here, we want to get you up to speed so you can participate and give your unique point of view.
Since you were born several thousand years into the conversation, we have a lot to catch you up on. So much, in fact, that we've developed complex systems for getting newcomers up to speed. You've got to learn in one or two decades what it took the human race millennia to figure out.
So we need these systems (called "schools") to make it possible to bring you into the conversation.
If we could pass it all on with a few casual summaries, we certainly would; we're eager to see how you'll contribute. We can't though, because the details matter.
In this conversation you're coming into, it's tough to follow through on the promise to fill you in on what you've missed. But we're determined.
We've painstakingly sifted everything that's been said and done in the world to narrow it down to the ones that are most relevant.
We've devised and revised and perfected all kinds of techniques for getting skills and information across.
We've even developed tools you can use on your side to learn more effectively and easily.
And this is where we have to acknowledge that none of this works without some definite effort on your part. We're doing all we can to make this conversation open to everyone, but there's a point at which you have to step up and bear some of the weight.
Imagine the same scene as before from the opposite point of view. You've been having an absolutely fascinating conversation with a group of people when a good friend walks into the room. You're excited to get their take on the discussion, and you know they're going to find it really interesting, too.
But you need to convey a lot of background materials to set up the conversation. You try to convey your enthusiasm and assure your friend that they're going to find this just as interesting as you do.
Now there are some ways your friend could react that might make sense from their point of view but in your mind are obviously wrong and short-sighted.
Suppose they immediately start telling you their opinions on the subject, without getting the facts first. You might be pleased at first by their eagerness to be involved, but they don't seem to appreciate how complex this topic is.
Or suppose they listen to you for a minute, then start looking bored and tell you they're not interested. You tell them you haven't even gotten to the good part yet, but they insist that this subject just isn't their cup of tea. How can they be so sure? They don't even know what it is yet!
In the context of school, these two reactions are a little easier to understand. It's a lot of work, and it's hard to see what it's all for. That's in the nature of the game, because part of what school is for is to give you the full context to appreciate what school is for. You don't really start to see it until you're pretty far in, when you have the benefit of the higher vantage point your education will give you.
We get the problem with this idea. We wouldn't trust a salesman who told us that we wouldn't understand the benefits of his product until after we'd paid for it. But nobody's trying to sell you anything here. On the contrary, we're trying to give you our greatest treasure, and we just need your help loading it onto the truck.
Why is your education so urgent for us? Why do we go to such lengths to support it and urge you along? There are at least two reasons, intertwined with each other.
One is that when a person has a hold of something good, their enjoyment of it increases the more they share it. So having received an education ourselves, we're eager to magnify our joy by making you part of it.
The other is that we recognize and respect your place in history. Whether you choose to or not, you will in a short time be deciding the course of human civilization.
You can't opt out of this fact.
If you decide to do as little as you can, maybe getting a job to pay the bills and spending the rest of the time in your apartment playing Fortnite, then by that very inaction you're deciding not to make any of the many contributions to society you're capable of.
This isn't just about getting the grades so you can get the job so you can make the money so you can buy the house. It's about looking at the future and deciding to be ready for it, by accepting the discipline of study, by sweating the small stuff so you can get the big picture, and by cooperating with the system we've designed to help you.
We want you to be involved in this conversation. We need your point of view. In a very short time, you're on. It's your show. It will be up to you, based on all you've learned about what this world is, how it works, and who we are, to start deciding what we should do, and how.
We're hoping you'll see what a big deal that is and decide right now to step up to the responsibility.
We're glad you're here. Let us tell you what we've been talking about.