US Education Policy

We Are What We Teach:
Re-envisioning Public Education for a Just, Free, and Prosperous America

June 30, 2022  • Education and Society Program

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Public education is the most important investment America makes in its future. It is a tangible expression of our values and aspirations for society. Schools profoundly influence how students understand themselves, the roles and responsibilities they are expected to fulfill, and the country they will collectively create. Two decades into the 21st Century, a new vision for public education is needed to ensure every young person develops the knowledge, skills, and character that enable their thriving and our success as a society in a time of disruptive change.

Today’s students are experiencing a crisis of belonging and a crisis of opportunity. One-third of 15-year-olds report not feeling like they belong in their school, while stress, anxiety, and depression among students is already at record levels and rising. 86% of children ages 6-11 believe that people of different races are not treated fairly in America. Upward mobility is now under 50% and keeps declining; Black families are 16 times more likely than White families to experience three generations of poverty.

We need a rich vision for public education that meets this moment and offers all young people an opportunity to experience a sense of belonging and prepares them to participate fully in American society, civic life, and work.

The Aspen Institute Education & Society Program’s We Are What We Teach proposes these three primary and interdependent areas of focus to advance this vision for public education:

  • Developing a healthy sense of self that supports students to understand who they are and how to make the most of their talents and passions
  • Preparing students to engage effectively in American democracy and civic life
  • Enabling students to thrive in the world of work

Now is the most challenging and consequential time for education leadership in generations. The decisions we make about schools today will reverberate for decades in the citizenry and society we become. Join the Education & Society Program as we explore these issues, convening educators, policymakers, partners, and community leaders to better define success and create the schools we want and need for our children.