Monday, July 8, 2013

Visiting Scholar

I have a violet lanyard, and attached to it is a violet ID card from New York University. At the bottom, under my picture, it says, "Visiting Scholar." Yes, friends, it's summer and time for all good teachers, at some point in their careers, to be called a Visiting Scholar.

My entree to this august realm is courtesy of a Great Society law that created the National Endowment for the Humanities, a publicly-funded entity whose sole mission is to encourage and support the study and research of the...well, humanities. You know the humanities. They were the subjects in high school and college that promised never to get you a job or a girl/boyfriend or a terrific pile of money. You took them because the education system said that you had to. Languages, literature, philosophy, religion, music, history. They were good for the soul and nourishment for the brain. The Bran Flakes of the curriculum. The subjects that are now threatened because of budget cuts and low enrollment. The basis of our civilization and the cornerstone of our national political and cultural life.

Those Humanities. You remember them.

Anyway, I am a Visiting Scholar (because my lanyard says so) in a seminar called, Eastern Europe in Modern European History at NYU which runs for three weeks and is lead by a fact and analysis machine named Dr. Larry Wolff. There are 15 other Visiting Scholars from across the country and we're here because of a competitive process that the NEH used to choose us.

It's terrific. I've been there a week and I'm already a better teacher than I was at the end of June. I have materials I can share with my students. I have more knowledge for myself. I have perspective. But I also have the intangibles that come from being among other teachers; judgement, support and camaraderie. A representative came from the NEH to observe us this past week and I engaged him in conversation about how wonderful this seminar is so far. He remarked that he understood what many politicians are pushing and that he supported us as scholars and teachers and leaders and educators and all of the things we'd love to hear from politicians, but we don't because they don't understand. It's nice to know that we have people like him on our side.

I've read the bunkum from right wing think tanks that say that these kinds of programs don't make teachers better or that they cost too much and there's no objective way of measuring how much students actually gain from having teachers participate. This shows just how anti-intellectual the non-reformers are and it further exposes their agenda that wants to further cut outstanding programs like this so that we can save money and give a buck and a quarter back to every taxpayer.

Don't you believe any of that. This is what education should be and I'm proud to be a part of a government program that recognizes how important all of us Visiting Scholars are to our students. I'm looking forward to the rest of the seminar.

And I'm going to hang my violet ID badge up in my classroom this fall. My students should know that their teacher is a scholar.

For more, go to and on Twitter @rigrundfest

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