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10 hopes for Henry

Aaron North, vice president of Education at the Kauffman Foundation, envisions what he wants the education system to look like for his own son – and for all students in the next 20 years.

Dear Henry,

You are almost two years old and have a new baby brother on the way in October. Those two events, in serendipitous alignment with my work, are the reasons why you are getting a letter from me even though you can’t read yet. Keep up the good work on your letters, though, and you will be there in no time.

Aaron North and Henry North, 10 Hopes for Henry, Kauffman Foundation
Aaron North and his son, Henry.

Even though you aren’t in school yet, I think about what and how you will learn during the next 20 years. The pace of technological change, increasing connectivity between people around the world, and what it means to be prepared for learning, work and life after high school are the things that bump around in my mind.

Right now, you like playing with magnetic letters and trying to get cabinets open despite the childproof locks. I hope that curiosity and those simple ways of engaging with letters, numbers and the world around you never changes. There are other hopes, though. Not just for you, but for all your future friends out there—the ones learning today how to crawl, say their first words, unroll all the toilet paper in the house, or are just waiting to be born.

We know most of you will get jobs or make jobs that do not currently exist. We also know the world and our economy will continue to adapt and be disrupted by the ongoing evolution of artificial intelligence, accessible and affordable virtual reality, and other technologies that were once the domain of science fiction writers and movie-makers. To some people, those changes and their implications may seem scary. To others, they represent new opportunities and necessary progress. To the rest of us, they are a bit of both. Whatever a person’s perspective, the world will look different for you and your generation in 20 years and will be changing rapidly along the way.

Here are 10 “hopes” for the future of your learning:

Different and diverse friends

I hope you know people different from you and you are excited to learn, work, and play together with them. This must be an intentional effort on the part of your mom and me, and our community as a whole.

Curiosity and agency

I hope school has offered you chances to learn more about what you like to do and who you are, but also to judge when it is necessary to do something that does not interest you and to do it well.

A portfolio of experiences

I hope you graduate from high school with a diploma that looks more like a resume, or portfolio of experiences, projects, and applied academics, than it does a basic transcript of letter grades and seat-time credits. Your diploma is a reflection of who you are and what you can do.

Space to take risks

I hope you and your friends know how to calculate risk, take chances, and view failure and struggle as learning opportunities, not as undesirable endings.

“Hard” and “soft” skills are valued equally

You will be assessed (“graded”) in school on how well you communicate, empathize, reason and collaborate with the same rigor as on how well you read, calculate and write.

Varied paths to success

You will not feel like you are taking a second-class pathway if you decide not to go to college in order to pursue work or other learning opportunities after high school based on your interests, talent, and individual pathway to economic independence. And if you decide to go to college, the value proposition will be clear to you and any debt carried by you or your friends will be commensurate with your post-degree career potential.

You are the priority

You and your friends will be the priority “customers” of any school system or institution you attend. Your needs and outcomes will be placed ahead of those for faculty, staff or external groups.

Lifelong learning

You will grow old learning and re-learning new skills and approaches and our region has clear ways for where and how that learning takes place for students of all ages.

Humanity is your superpower

You understand early how to be human and empathize with others at least as much as you understand the technology that can both connect you to a larger world while also isolating you from it.

A better society

Education outcomes and career opportunities will not be predictable based on race, gender, ethnicity and/or income level.

These hopes will not be realized by accident or by luck. We (your parents, your community and your country) are responsible for doing things today to increase the odds that our education systems and institutions prepare you for the world you will live in, not the one in which your parents and grandparents grew up.

That is beginning to happen and needs to continue. Businesses, education leaders, community-based organizations and (increasingly) students and families are talking about their shared hopes for the future and learning together what it will take to make sure our schools can get us there.

By the time you are able to read this, I hope our region is on its way to ensuring every student, including you, is prepared for learning, work and life when you leave the education systems we have built for you.

I promise to work as hard on that as I can if you promise to keep working on your letters and stop hiding the remote control.


Aaron (Dad)