Let us remember the journalists, police and other brave souls who were killed by those who could not abide difference and challenge without resorting to murder. Let us cultivate the spirit of satire and of critique, but also of reverence and of affection, in ways that challenge the conventions of the moment.
Our colleges and universities aspire to help students to find what John Dewey called "the large and human significance" in their lives and work. This requires not just teaching to the test and not just parroting critiques. It requires learning to think with contexts and concepts, deploying cooperation and creativity.
As a college president, I'm usually saying that our nation's colleges and universities help students come to know the unknown, and to grasp the vital importance of knowing. Yet there is something in "Everything important in life is unknown" that clarifies the proper role of colleges and universities.
On this July 4 we should dedicate ourselves to recovering the American promise that education should increase our independence. Since the founding of this country, education has been closely tied to self-reliance, to declaring one's independence through one's ability to think for oneself and creatively contribute to society. In a quickly shifting economic landscape, it is understandable that some parents and pundits are calling for streamlined learning to train people quickly. But gearing education only to meeting current economic conditions is a ticket to conformity -- and also to economic and cultural mediocrity.
Despite their many differences, we can see in Jefferson and the Obamas a common commitment to a broad, open-ended education as a vehicle for disrupting entrenched elites. When the best educational resources are dominated by the wealthiest, they become an elite bent on cultivating their pleasures rather than on extending knowledge and cultural vitality.