I arrived on the grounds of USMA West Point in the late afternoon and found my room in the Distinguished Visitor’s Quarters, a renovated three-story Victorian near the parade grounds and overlooking the mighty Hudson River. Cadets walked home in pairs, trios, and small groups, or jogged down the road in full gear or shorts and tees, fulfilling their daily physical training regimen. The last sun fell on the hills above the river’s eastern shore. Spring pink blossoms dappled the edges of the bright green parade grounds.
I always walk more quietly when I am here; it feels like a museum, a church, and a place of learning all at once. I walk taller, too, as if not everyone is allowed to be here and I get to show my respect. Today I will wear a tie; I almost never wear a tie any more but I sure as heck will wear one today.
This morning I will visit the grave of young Lt. Dimitri del Castillo, friend to my children, my wife, and me back in the day, a little boy who played ball with us on our front lawn and rode his bike around our street when we lived in Houston. He died in a firefight on some dry mountainside in Afghanistan when his unit came under attack.
Why am I here? Because some of the faculty at West Point are interested in the changes taking place in K-12 education. They recognize that if the students we graduate from high school are evolving their learning, then a great college must evolve as well. Not everyone here agrees, and surely the rigid traditional West Point education system is not aligned with the progressive, transformational, Dewey-inspired learning ecosystem that “we” preach. And that is just fine. They asked me to come talk to them, so I came. The faculty don’t really have any money to pay for people like me, and I don’t care. I have been honored to know and work with some of these men and women in uniform for about five years now, and all they have to do is ask.
When I talk to educators here…heck, when I talk to anyone here…I try to make the point that I know something about education and learning, but I have no experience in being shot at. If we really believe in the value of an experiential education, we remember that difference.
Why am I here? Because in the Falconer seminar I taught to some cadets a few summer ago, one young man said, “Now I understand why asking questions is so important. If I don’t ask the right questions, someone I am responsible for is going to die.” I can’t think of many privileges greater than that kind of teaching.