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a brief exam

Now that the school year is over, I find myself looking for some conclusions, or lessons learned, or at least some reflections. It’s an indulgence on some level, but I’m enough of a believer in the “examined life” to make an attempt:

I dove into a more overtly political world in the last year and, as a result, I’ve written much less here. I’m still writing—perhaps more than before—but instead of writing about what I read, I prepare for public statements and speeches. I summarize arguments and send out mass emails and construct positions. It is a very focused style, rhetorical and argumentative and to help myself I’m studying speeches by politicians like Presidents Obama and Lincoln.

Those choices are, of course, quite conscious; they are leaders I’d like to emulate in some ways. While I do not pretend to have the intellect or ability of either men, I do try to learn from them. I’m impressed, in particular, by the way Lincoln prepared and the careful way he argued. Sometimes he made fine distinctions that may not play as well in today’s faster, sound bite politics, where a subtle point is hard to make, but the power of his logic and his tendency to evoke first principles are important.

I’ve also been reading about organizing and framing and the political process more generally. There’s a whole set of skills and abilities that are unique to the political world and that I have never before worked to develop. I’m beginning to see it as a perspective, a way of seeing the moves that people make, the postures they take. I’m learning how to respond. And, fortunately, I’m comfortable disagreeing with people while still respecting them.

This process of acquiring new skills and a new lens through which to view the world is akin to going to graduate school. Also like graduate school, I’ve been conscious of a desire not to lose the person I was when I entered the process. So far, I don’t believe I have. In fact, in many ways the heat of political pressure only drives me closer to my core values: it’s always about the students for me. They are the reason I put myself through the pain of interminable meetings and other minutia of the political process. And I’m reminded of those values every time I go to the classroom. There I am part of the miracle that we call teaching and learning, through which people create new lives and begin to see themselves in new, more powerful light.

The challenges and growth I’ve experienced in the last year are part of my own process of seeing my self and my life in a new way. Where it will lead I cannot say—which of course is part of why we get up every day: to find out what will happen. My life is full and rich with learning. I can ask for little better.

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