Woodrow Wilson Understood

By | August 8, 2017

Education as Conversation

My blog has been pretty quiet recently because the summer has been filled with lots of travel: to Texas to celebrate my older brother Michael’s significant birthday while enjoying two Houston Grand Opera performances of the Elixir of Love conducted by his daughter Emily; to England for ten days of Shakespeare immersion in Stratford and London followed by a week with an ex-pat high school classmate of ours, Ralph Young, and his wife Angela; a week in San Diego in a big house with twenty-two of Peg’s cousins, their kids and grandkids; a long weekend in a spectacular hilltop house near Blacksburg, Virginia, where my daughter Rachel and her husband Todd have just moved to be near their two sons, Jason and Ryan, who together constitute one sixth of the Virginia Tech varsity tennis roster; and a quickie trip to Maine to celebrate the significant birthday of a dear friend, Louise Conant.

During the Maine trip, we stayed with John and Judy Cooper in Harpswell. John is also one of our high school classmates, class of ‘57 at the Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, DC. By what he assures me is a complete coincidence, John’s career as a leading historian has focused on President Woodrow Wilson, his most recent biography having come out in 2011. While reading that book, I came across the following quote from one of Wilson’s speeches. Here it is*:

“You cannot serve your friend unless you know what your friend’s needs are, and you cannot know what his needs are unless you know him inside and out.” – Woodrow Wilson

If you substitute the word “student” for “friend,” this quote turns into what has been my mantra about having a model of how your student thinks in order to be an effective teacher. So like Alan Alda (in my last post), Woodrow Wilson got it; he understood.

I wish the educators who are pushing remote and online interactions as a replacement for conversation with live teachers would get it. The title of this blog was not chosen at random.

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*Remarks to the Princeton Alumni Association of the District of Columbia, May 29, 1914, as cited in Arthur S. Link, ed., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Vol. 30, pp. 107-108 (Princeton, NJ, 1979).