Chester Finn '62 calls on Exonians to join education 'quest'

Alumnus challenges assembly audience to help improve America's educational system, policies.

January 28, 2022

Bring an Exeter alumnus who has dedicated his life to improving American education to a thousand Exeter students who are currently deeply invested in their own and you have the makings for a vibrant discussion. Such was the case last Friday, when Chester Finn ’62 delivered remarks and then fielded questions from the community at an assembly titled “Why You Should Join the Unfinished Quest for Equity and Excellence in American Education.”

“Maybe the last thing you want to hear today is why you should make education part of your life's work,” Finn told his virtual audience. “But my message this morning is that you should seriously consider doing just that. I've been at it for a few lifetimes now, starting, as I know some of you have done, with tutoring kids who needed help to succeed in school.”

Finn, introduced by his granddaughter Emma Finn ’22, was only eight years beyond his graduation from PEA before was advising the Nixon White House on matters related to education. Finn has been a professor of education, a consultant on education policy and for four years in the 1980s an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education. A longtime advocate of school choice, he founded and is president emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to educational excellence in American schools.

Finn told his audience, “there are innumerable ways you can engage, not just as a full-time occupation, but also by serving on school boards, by volunteering in a thousand different sorts of places, by working with nonprofit organizations, by writing and lobbying and donating, and by taking seriously the education needs of your neighbors in your community, as well as those of yourself, and your family, and others like you.”

After his brief remarks in which he laid out four reasons for his listeners to take on his challenge (the country needs it; justice and fairness depend on it; communities don't succeed without it; and if not you, then who?), Finn took questions from his listeners.

Watch the full assembly and Q+A here:

Assembly | Chester E. Finn, Jr. ’62 from Phillips Exeter Academy on Vimeo.