Do your students get to ask the "question of questions"?

The New York Times recently ran a letter to The Ethicist titled “Almost All the Colleges I Wanted to Go to Rejected Me. Now What?” In response, Kwame Anthony Appiah, a professor of Philosophy at NYU, shared this story:

“The 18th-century Hasidic rabbi Zusha is supposed to have said that when he died and appeared before the heavenly court, they could ask him, ‘Why were you not as great as Abraham?’ and he wouldn’t be afraid; after all, he wasn’t given Abraham’s intellectual gifts. They could ask him, ‘Why weren’t you Moses?’ and he wouldn’t be afraid; he didn’t have Moses’ skills as a leader. The question that frightened him was this: ‘Why weren’t you Zusha?’ The scholar Martin Buber, writing in the past century, called this the ‘question of questions.’”

School often feels organzied around different sorts of questions, such as:

  • How did you do on that test (quiz, essay, etc)?

  • What are your SAT scores?

  • What is your class rank?

  • How many extracurriculars do you do?

And, of course, the question behind the NY Times letter:

  • What college are you going to?

But what if school is really for launching students on a journey to answer the “question of questions”?

It’s the difference between worrying about being the best and being your best.


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Christian Talbot