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Follow the Leader…

learn to change the world

I recently had the privilege of speaking one-on-one with Harvard Graduate School of Education’s (HGSE) Dean of Faculty, James Ryan.

Dean Ryan was an attorney-turned-author-and-educator, whose detour into education began most notably as the Matheson and Morgenthau Distinguished Professor,  as well as Academic Associate Dean, at the University of Virginia School of Law–among other distinctions– before arriving at Harvard in 2013.

This year, Dean Ryan launched the Campaign for HGSE to enable the school to “fulfill its vision of changing the world through education by expanding opportunity and improving outcomes.” A day-long event, including a visit from current Secretary of State Arnie Duncan and a performance by famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, kicked off the campaign under the slogan “Learn to Change the World.”

That got me thinking…how can we change the world? What can I do as an individual that would make a significant difference? The Dean’s moving words in his speech resonated with me, even more so because I had attended a luncheon a week prior, in which he had discussed his book, Five Miles Away, A World Apart: One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in Modern Americawhich chronicled the disparity between two schools so close and yet so far. The divergence of resources, both material and otherwise, seemed implausible, and yet it is the reality of many school districts today.

Dean Talk



Dean Ryan Book


As a self-proclaimed documentary buff–I like to consider documentaries high brow reality television–I drew parallels between the book and a 2012 documentary by Oscar® winning director Alex Gibney entitled Park Avenue, which itself won a Peabody Award.  Park Avenue explores the juxtaposition of the landmark New York street which few know actually runs the length of most of the City. In fact, far from the glitz and affluence of billionaires in penthouses on the Upper East Side are those awaiting public assistance from a food pantry in South Bronx across the Harlem River. The film is readily available on Netflix, WGBH PBS, and on YouTube

Two education-related documentaries of interest are also A Tale of Two Schools  and TEACH. I highly recommend both.

I am drawn to using such examples in my teaching (at Houston Community College) to help students make connections from the classroom to the real world so that they feel a sense of ownership in their own futures and therefore, work harder towards building better ones. Dean Ryan’s book struck that chord with me and inspired me to incorporate more of these influences into my teaching.  

One day I hope to produce my own documentary. Hopefully someone will see it 🙂

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