Vision, Policy & Practice Adviser, M.P.Aff.
ProSocial Democracy, Engaged Education and Quality of Work Life
After a career of over four decades dedicated to public education, youth development and mentoring in a vast multitude of roles, kinds and experiences—research & development, advocacy, administration, collaboration, community-based organizing and senior leadership at all levels of complex, diverse, dynamic systems, strategic initiatives, networked improvement communities, professional collaborative communities—I can simply say the essence of my career is the affirmation of everything that was of my first intuition, passion, wisdom and commitment to public education as creative, imaginative and critical to the twofold promise, life, call, and flourishing of the epic grandeur of creation, humanity, a democratic people and interwoven world citizenry. For our democracy as evolving, emerging, revolutionary is ever “something new under the sun,” Jefferson’s radical though complex vision of democracy, a revolution and constitutional convention every generation. For me, this is whole worlds come alive, our life together, when our public education and democracy is centered on these various pedagogies of the same essential vision, values and truth: the excellence of extraordinary teachers and students when imagined, supported and engaged in what I call poetically the “Renaissance HighLow Dialogo of Democracy” which is quite research-based and grounded in Noam Chomsky’s conception of high and low creativity in our social humane nature, each and every free, moral and original individual, every good self-creating democratic society.
But pure and simple, my vision, leadership, innovation, policy, and practice is the same as that of Pasi Sahlberg’s and his lifelong wisdom and leadership in advocating for the Finnish Model, and now his latest book, In Teachers We Trust, The Finnish Way to World-Class Schools. In sum, my professional career is best known as follows:
My top five contemporary favorite educators are Andy Hargreaves, Jonathan Kozol, Barnett Berry, Linda Darling-Hammond, along with Sahlberg, and others are in the same vein: Paulo Friere, John Dewey, Cornel West, Thomas Mann and of course Thomas Jefferson).
The common theme of each: extraordinary teachers are the heart, light and life of a good education that is centered on equally extraordinary students.
Education as quality of work life (this is critical to exemplify for students) and overall excellence, values of curiosity, creativity, empathy, integrity and courage, commitment to larger visions and pursuits of justice, peace and solidarity, and the joy of bringing whole worlds alive for students depends first and foremost, last and ultimately, and everywhere in between on investing, valuing and supporting teachers in professional careers of ever greater mastery, leadership and impact as if our democracy, future, flourishing and each and every child’s life depended on it! And literally as if our lives, values and loves depended on it as well!!
Keys to my education career, approach and accomplishments:
- Education and teaching excellence, dialogic pedagogy and revolutionary prosocial democracy for humane inclusive social justice that is rooted in the whole way of life and community of all people and in every aspect of political, social, economic, cultural, intellectual and linguistic organizations, institutions, life, relationships and practices.
- Accomplished leader in K-12 education and youth development for a democratic people—research, systems, strategy, policy, practice and advocacy as advanced in our optimal modernizing liberal world, and the ancient and radical critical witness to challenge and go beyond this liberal world.
- Expertise in economic and organizational development, education, democracy and pursuits of social and economic justice. Senior executive and creativity leadership positions in prominent organizations and social movements in cutting-edge initiatives at the national, state, district & community levels.
- Technical expertise for coherent and aligned standards-based systems, pipelines and career progressions for effective, diverse teachers and school leaders.
- Successful education leader in building, engaging and collaborating with diverse constituencies, partners, and stakeholders for purposeful action, desired results, and impact.
- My passion in this moment of rising CCCR expectations and increasing opportunity, learning, graduation and post-graduation gaps is for changing trajectories, especially for historically underserved students. My joy is when those who are “invisible,” vulnerable, or marginalized— "children of crisis" eg Robert Coles—receive support, relationships, and education they need to then discover and develop their unique strengths, creativity, and compassion as "leaders in hope."
- Bachelors with Distinction, University of Virginia, History and Political Science/Theology
- Masters of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, LBJ School of Public Affairs.
- Significant coursework at Wesley Methodist Seminary, Duke University
- As senior policy analyst for D.C.-based civil rights coalition, Campaign for High School Equity, effectively amplified voice of prominent civil rights organizations on behalf of students of color and low-income students, achieving significant “wins” for meaningful engagement with Congress and Administration in advancing equity role of federal education policy (e.g. ESEA).
- At the Council for Chief State School Officers, imagined, created and led multiple prominent high-visibility and impact national strategic initiatives across all states of state education leaders, experts, non-profit and business partners to reform federal education policy (ESEA): all in the same spirit of the Finnish Model and the essential and critical importance of teaching excellence and quality of work life for a flourishing democratic people as defined above. And specifically, these initiatives tried to overcome the narrow rationalism, top-down anti-democratic hegemony of various test-based and technology-augmented systems, whether of accountability, justice, equity or other national moral imperatives through a new community-based dynamic focus on student learning in the classroom, supported by cycles of goal-setting, good instruction, formative assessment, effective use of data based on multiple measures and holistic accountability for continuous improvement.
In everything I write, mentor and advocate, especially for public education, I am trying to regain an inspiring “grand narrative” to unify and mobilize an effective democratic solidarity movement that very much includes a broad spectrum of influences, ancient to postmodern of liberality, democratic, socialist, Marxist, utopian (see Ernst Bloch), renaissance humanism, and Christian-based but thoroughly ecumenical universalism. Paulo Freire, Gustavo Gutierrez, James Cone and others of liberation theology are very inspirational in this way. And yes, of course John Dewey and his pragmatism philosophy as still evolving (I had Richard Rorty as a professor but do not like his eventual apologetics for a liberal democracy that celebrates individuality, everyone an artist, and our wholly vital liberal centrism as “the best of all possible worlds). To me, the needs, problems and crises of our “moment” are obvious, urgent and over-determining in terms of research and evidentiary support from sciences, humanities, arts and popular social movements.
We need to be as open, experimental, creative, courageous as possible, especially daring to follow any sense or possibility of truth, justice, peace and solidarity wherever it leads. And in our Anthropocene accelerating trajectory of multiple converging crises threatening self-annihilation, we need to dare to reimagine, rethink and reconsider all sources of engaged inquiry, especially if we desire to regain a unified sense of democracy as the epic grandeur of twofold everlasting creation and humanity, our life together as expansive flourishing in mysteries and truths of sheer goodness.
Ours is a rare epochal transition age and that can be a profound clarion call that only needs an interpretive framework and unified “ideology” in the best sense of the word to act on it, or it can be a further descent into general hopelessness, resignation and acceptance of incrementalism, peripheral changes and our ongoing narrow systems thinking, technological-augmented optimization modernizing and vast energizing but stable and self-recreating centrist equipoise of “free arenas of debate” of contesting interests, myriad solidarities, individuals, ideas, identities, institutions etc. Again, I link all of these democratic urgencies and needs to recall a sense of the epic grandeur of humanity and the dynamic sweep of history toward democracy fully understood and realized as lifting up the importance of all those like our teaching profession who essentially define and transmit “who we are” and in Friere’s dialogic pedagogy welcome and educate students as critically engaged peers and participatory partners in carrying this momentum forward.
One pragmatic follow-up:
One thing most distressing to me in my professional career in education policy was the decline in stature and appeal of teaching as a profession in the U.S. and the careerist and “realist” orientation of the rising generations and the loss of a sense of exhilarating though deeply-grounded “utopian” or romantic inspiration as to “why” we teach or work in any endeavor (e.g. Orwell’s classic essay, Why I Write). This then carries through into our social and political life. It is to me the hideous smile and seductive temptation of the realist and tragic “Beast” now devouring living humanity and the good earth (e.g. this quite potent term is a signifier of the madness of civilization, a terrible descent into a world coming apart, a “total modern world” where all faiths, sciences, identities and ideologies are tearing each other to pieces, William Blake’s and others poetic metaphors.
It is also an imagery and reality of faiths, sciences and ideologies of all history and peoples where flesh and blood whole humane social utopias are a “hop presence” in witness to this equally palpable crouching ubiquity of the same kind of devouring but needs a familiar name to unify people to overcome and continue to build their democratic ones of world solidarity. Thus, this Beast is of diverse origins including Christian eschatology and the underlying humane and democratic wisdom of Marxist interpretation of abstract, commodifying, alienating, exploiting and impoverishing fundamental and ultimate nature of the triune monopoly of interwoven state power, free-market capital and liberal culture, along with modern communications, as a global world system of various living corporate leviathans competing with one another. The utilitarian ethos, the optimal logic, the raison d’etre of all these leviathans as currently engaged in this global competition is for one or none to be the final extended sphere of all political, cultural, social, economic, intellectual and linguistic life.
Hence the importance of education is not as liberally understood as the promise and making of wholly vital individuals as if this is what the world needs most (e.g. Howard Thurman, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr.). But rather the world needs most is the whole flourishing world to come alive as it really is. Our first task is to free ourselves from the dominant zeitgeist of our age with its optimal modern disorders of all humans seeking mastery of their destiny, all differing varieties of great “I Am” first “Word” spoken poetry, and our diseased, top-heavy and narcissistic focus on such one world ordering minds set on eternal accumulating abstract growth of a certain dehumanizing kind. I Am: inner being, mystic spirituality, mindfulness philosophies that are scarcely different than all others that glorify values of individuality, sovereignty, nativism, soulforce solidarities, Ayn Rand Fountainheads, Powers of One or Now and all other progeny of cosmologies that originally root themselves into the living earth, “the ground of all being,” by naming and claiming private ownership of the entire cosmos as if of their own finding, making and sustaining, their own transcendent or immanent communion, our total dynamic existential modern reality.
Thus, I write, evoke and seek to inspire the need for the Renaissance HighLow Dialogo that is the twofold excellence of teachers and students in dialogic pedagogy not of the oppressed alone, but of all peoples seeking liberation and utopias, our life together, by regaining a unified sense of the epic grandeur of twofold democracy and then greatness: a flourishing interwoven whole social humanity and germinal creation, two everlasting Gospels, not one, and ours is like theirs an unfinished symphony of two orchestral movements, a Texas Two-Step dance of our eternal God of grace and illimitable Humanity of love, God’s grace is doubly amazing! And yet Humanity’s love does everything the same but backwards and in cowboy boots!! The first quite magnificent and heavenly and the other enchanting and down to earth.