The National Gallery of Art
I have a Southern academic past- a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of South Carolina. I treasure it. I also hold a Master’s from this institution. What I hold most closely in my memories is an experience in an Educational Policy and Analysis class in my doctoral program with one of my mentors, Dr. Leonard Pellicer, a very influential person in my life. This course involved a study of federal and state educational policy as well as a one-week trip to Washington, DC to study federal educational policy. This was a professional life changing experience.
With background reading in the federal policy literature, our class traveled to Washington, DC and stayed in Georgetown. I recall riding past the Watergate Hotel and remembering the Nixon hearings. We toured the White House, visited Senator Edward Kennedy’s Education Hearings, and visited the headquarters of our profession organizations in Reston, Virginia. My policy take-a-way was that education policy is all about the budget, and all about compromises that are not always in the best interest of children.
My learning experience came on a free afternoon when I went to a Van Gogh exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. I bought an expensive Van Gogh print and left the gallery. Snow was everywhere. The limousines of power took the political elite to the Capitol. I prayed that a taxi would appear. I suddenly came upon a homeless man who was trying to build a fire and cover himself with a piece of cardboard. I will never be able to get that image out of my mind. There was nothing I could do for him.
That image became a symbol for me. That evening, I processed that experience with Dr. Pellicer over dinner. Our discussion helped me channel the experience into a policy paper on the education of homeless children. The experience sharpened my desire to be a champion for the underdog. It defined me professionally and personally.
Now in retirement, I actively sought to volunteer at our local hospital where I see everyone from rich Floridians with second homes in the mountains to patients on Medicaid. A man walked in last week and said, “I have no insurance. I cannot afford it. Can I talk to someone?” I have seen things that convince me that this Southern Belle grew up in a bubble. I have had so much in my life and been so fortunate so I need to know that on a regular basis, I am helping the less fortunate in some way.
Our most powerful learning experiences are often outside the classroom and mine occurred on that snowy day in DC.