When Secretary Duncan spoke at the Askwith Forum here at the Ed School, every seat was filled. Tickets were raffled off and his talk was streamed for those who didn’t make it in the room.
As expected during an election year (not sure which years aren’t), Sec. Duncan’s talk was light on anything that could be taken as disruptive thinking. The title of “Fighting the Wrong Education Battles” was fleshed out not with a clear cry for which battles were worth fighting, but for compromise and ceding of ideology.
It was the stump speech I expected and that Sec. Duncan needed to make in an age when leadership has become conflated with keeping power. Because I understood the politics of the moment, I wasn’t surprised by the speech.
The underwhelming feeling came from the audience’s response. It almost felt as though being in the room negated the potential to disagree. Access trumped democracy. When we arrived at the Q&A portion, questions were largely driven by personal interests and not thoughtful engagement with the positions the Secretary had outlined.
This was expected. As columnist David Brooks noted at his Askwith, I’ve been at Harvard enough to know people were there to hear themselves talk.
All that was not what frustrated me.
The next day, Wynton Marsalis joined with a distinguished panel for another forum titled “Educating for Moral Agency and Engaged Citizenship.”
Marsalis and the rest of the panel explored education from the perspective of jazz, the arts, and non-religious spiritual education. They challenged notions of masculinity and community involvement and considered how educators and officials could shift the way they listen in a move to improve students’ learning.
It was exteporaneous and free-flowing. Tangents were followed. Ideas explored. Standards challenged.
Whereas a stump speech brought out throngs and was streamed and archived, I can’t post the footage of the Marsalis panel because I can’t find it.
I wish I could.
If we continue to flock to those in power who are encumbered in the service of multiple masters for inspiration and solutions, the future we hope for will continue to exist on a far distant horizon.
If more and more we realized the value and wisdom of engaging with those who are in an of the doing of the work, that horizon would be far closer.