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.
In an increasingly fast and fragmented world, our incidental friends ground us. The metaphor of a tent comes to mind: If our immediate family and close friends provide the framework and the canvas, incidental friends like Mary are the stakes making sure the canvas doesn't blow away. Until those incidental friends depart.
One unsettling thing about aging is the subtle fear that the bus has left you behind. Or that you're lugging around so much baggage you won't be able to get back on at the next stop. That instead of heading towards the light -- transcendent or otherwise -- your so-called "golden years" are in the rear-view mirror.
Conformity, whether rationalized or simply imposed, undermines our government, our press, and our educational systems. We've had to learn some hard lessons about this in the last 10 years. Surely one of them is that we must defend diversity as a tool for innovation and for responsible decision-making.