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July 19, 2007


Here's our mapping class, a bunch of kids between the ages of 13 and 15 who are interviewing a former chair of the County Council about how to improve their public school system. (I show a photo because we are taking lots of pictures to build a multimedia website.) They have come to the campus of the University of Maryland for the interview. An hour earlier, I was in the adjacent building for a dissertation defense. The (successful) candidate, a philosophy PhD student, had written her thesis on empowerment in international development, drawing on the work of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum.

Despite tremendous differences in vocabulary and methodology, there were some common themes in the two discussions. Both the middle-schoolers and the professors wanted to know how to reform institutions to enhance human development.

I have plenty of insecurities as an academic. I don't do technically complex work; I don't have field position within a major discipline. I don't publish in distinguished venues, and I haven't synthesized whatever I've learned in original, ambitious ways. I don't know whether I'll ever make substantial progress on those fronts. But on days like this, I am deeply grateful for the richness and diversity of the conversations I have the privilege to join.

July 19, 2007 9:09 AM | category: memoir | Comments


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