Fighting for inclusion, armed with humility
As we celebrated our largest group of graduating students to date on Mother’s Day, we saw in them an impatience to make their mark, joined with sincere humility about their role in the world. It is their humility, reflecting both the liberal arts core of our education and a Midwestern ethos that will serve them well as they continue to grow through ongoing learning.
But however humble, they are also impatient with the inequities of our society. Many of them support a surprisingly successful “democratic socialist” presidential candidate who demands an end to growing inequality. In philanthropic circles recently, there have been more initiatives examining and seeking to improve the diversity of decision makers in positions of power, donors using their giving to address social justice issues, researchers recovering overlooked stories of philanthropy in historically oppressed communities, and affinity groups working to bring more difference into the often homogeneous ranks of professionals on both the giving and the asking sides of our civil society.
But the fight for inclusion I see in our students is not only about correcting historical and ongoing inequities. It is also an open process of discovery, a continuation of their education as they figure out how to proceed on a journey without a certain destination. It is as if they tell us that we do not yet know the exact shape and dimension of a more inclusive world, where every person, and every kind of person, develops their talent to its full potential, and has it recognized by others. But it is imperative that we fight for it, not only for those not yet included, but for all of us.
Now, many people we read about in the news have not embraced the kind of humility we see in our students when it comes to debates about inclusion, but they should. Absolute certainties are not fertile ground for learning.
One promising development in this light has been Jim Shelton’s appointment to lead the educational efforts of the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative. It reminds us of the virtue of humility and the challenging work of inclusion that remains ahead of us.
Jim’s background spans the worlds of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education (from where he also led the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, aimed at increasing opportunities for boys and men of color, on behalf of the President), as well as the ed tech space. He straddles the establishment where expertise builds on time-tested knowledge and the world of rapid technological innovation that declares its impatience with incremental processes to improve social outcomes. It is not only Jim’s own humble approach, but the embrace of learning from the past that demonstrates an openness and an interest in learning, not dictating solutions.
This answers critics worried about the impulse demonstrated by some newly wealthy philanthropists to sweep away a lot of what is being done in the name of philanthropy and recreate it from scratch.
For those of us who see the advance of learning and knowledge as the engine of civilization, that fine balance of curiosity and passion to act is vital for progress. We are fortunate that our times are not paralyzed by doubt, but at the same time uninformed passion to act can be dangerous and destructive. So it is a welcome sign that the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative has brought on board a leader with established expertise, openness to learning, and the kind of impatience needed to drive change.
So with the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative work on education, we have not only the anticipated focus on technology in learning, but also the focus on addressing poverty and illness as conditions that stand in the way of learning—depriving all of us when everyone cannot realize their full potential. This is the kind of fight for which our students are well armed.
Eugene R. Tempel Dean