Caroline Kennedy on Education

, Caroline Kennedy on Education
In an evening with Caroline Kennedy, former ambassador to Japan, her emphasis on the importance of education on a national and global level was obvious as she spoke at the Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital Florida Forum fundraiser recently.
She spoke about education being the most important consideration currently in our nation; the most important thing imaginable, a topic that affects every other aspect of the quality our lives. As an educator, her ideas, solutions, and contribution were significant; her fundraising in New York resulted in $65 million for the New York City Department of Education and assisted with vast improvements.
“After 9-11, we had increased community engagement. We had an engaged community. We were unable to operate under the reduced class size initiatives, so we chose instead to create smaller schools instead of smaller classes,” said Kennedy.
Creating smaller communities – even creating more than one school inside one school building – fostered a sense of community and connected-ness.
“I was living in upstate New York in seventh and eighth grade,” said Florida high schooler William Cernik. “Yes, we had smaller schools within the larger buildings. It built a sense of belonging, of knowing everyone, of caring about everybody’s accomplishments.” Cernik is now a senior at Palatka High School in Palatka, Florida.
The idea of reducing the coverage in education from the larger population down to a smaller more intimate group came naturally to Kennedy. She talked about the love of literature, even poetry, in the smaller realm of her own home due to the insistence of her accomplished mother Jacqueline Kennedy, a respected editor of over 100 books with publishers Viking and Doubleday.
, Caroline Kennedy on Education
“My mother really encouraged us to read and explore and not be afraid of poetry,” Kennedy said. Having recently published a book of poetry herself, Kennedy joked about poetry being one of the more difficult types of literature to create and understand.
 “My mother… we had to give her a poem at occasions like Christmas,” Kennedy said. “My brother and I, of course, we were competitive. Whose poem would she like best? The poems often were rather predictable for children; there were some poems about mean older sisters…”
After Kennedy’s interview, sitting at a table with two groups of book club ladies, we compared notes on what books we had just read, the best one we ever read, the worst one we ever read… My club, the “Read ‘Em and Eat Book Club,” had just finished reading Christina Baker Kline’s “a piece of the world” about artist Andrew Wyeth’s muse Christina Olson. In the book, Christina struggles to understand poet Emily Dickinson’s meaning.
Locked in an uncooperative body, gradually becoming unable to walk, Christina’s teacher presents her with a book of poetry and predicts that her solace in life will be her mind. The book of poetry opens her mind to the possibilities of poetry and the idea that an author’s meaning is open to personal interpretation. “It can mean whatever you want it to mean,” Christina explains.
, Caroline Kennedy on Education
Literary meanings can be fluid, and they even can change over time. Kennedy mentioned the changeable meaning of her father’s book, “Profiles in Courage.” She spoke of the award named after the book, and how the selection process of the Profile in Courage Committee that chooses someone to honor annually has changed with updated interpretation of “courage.”
Kennedy spoke of the changing meaning of courage. “The previous meaning was someone who believed in something, no matter the cost to their political career, the cost to their party or policy, or the personal outcome. They had a belief and stood by it for the good of the whole, the good of the entire country. These days… courage… the new meaning of courage could be compromise.”
Compromise would be a skill an ambassador explores and hones while serving. Kennedy spoke about Japan and China, with Korea right in the middle. She spoke about previous enemies, like Japan, now allies, and so important to global peace, and the responsibilities of each country to make those accommodations.
Kennedy spoke about Okinawa’s military base and the need for a cohesive solution to the areas the US and Japan share. In 2015, Kennedy engineered the largest return of US military land back to Japan since 1972.
As Ambassador to Japan, Kennedy described one of her first realizations, “I was seeing my own country through different eyes – not their eyes – but seeing my own country from my new perspective.” She recounted how ambassadors are not simply ceremonial subjects, but important liaisons between countries.
“The dangers of 45 unfilled ambassador positions magnifies the extent to which America is withdrawing.” It is insulting to those countries – they feel diminished in our eyes.”
After her time as ambassador, Kennedy said one of her goals was to continue to strengthen those connections between countries. She began a program for US students to connect with students in other countries, presenting their work to each other regularly through online visual communications, continuing those global connections.
, Caroline Kennedy on Education
As a high school teacher, my days are filled with trivial student concerns; whether they can have a pass to the bathroom or who said what about whom or posted what to social media. Sitting at a table of adults – and well-read adults at that – hearing the discussions of state-wide, national, even global concerns, I was remined of a quote favored by one of my mentors:
“Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”
When asked if she has any new political aspirations, Kennedy joked that she’s getting old. “Too old,” she said. Someone mentioned her children following in her path, and she jokingly said, “You don’t know my children, do you?”
Caroline Kennedy’s entire family embodied a love of ideas, of literature, and a commitment to ideals, and carrying on a family legacy, just as Wyeth’s muse Christina does in “A Piece of the World” when she “daughters out,” or becomes the last of a family line.
Isn’t it interesting how the more you read, the more connections you make, the more you understand, and the more you want to know. Caroline Kennedy was right. Education is the main thing. The most important thing.
Thank you, ESloan and @MonarchPhotoStudio!
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