Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On naming Madison's new primary school

It is apparently still possible to send communications on the naming of Madison's new primary school to Here is a copy of my contribution:

Thank you for this opportunity to add my voice to those supporting naming our new primary school in memory of Jeff Erlanger.

When the naming issue first emerged a couple of years back, I was one of those who suggested Howard Temin's name. I have the greatest admiration and respect for Prof. Temin, and hope that there will emerge a suitable opportunity to honor him within the Madison School System. If and when consideration is given to naming Madison high schools for individuals, or naming a school with a magnet-type math/science/health orientation, I think his name belongs at the very top of the list. He was a world renown scientist, a dedicated educator at all levels, a great humanitarian, and a wonderful human being that all might seek to emulate. The level of his transcendent scientific achievements might, however, seem a bit distant and beyond reach for some primary school students.

I cannot imagine a more accessible and worthy model for primary school students than Jeff Erlanger. I knew Jeff (and know his family) well, and worked with Jeff on a couple of small projects over the past two decades. What a truly amazing individual. Only at his funeral, however, did I come to realize how many people Jeff had touched, and in what profound ways. Jeff's story is inspiring in a way that touches us all, and is readily understandable to primary school students. My understanding is that he was the first individual with his level of physical disability to be mainstreamed through the Madison public schools. With his resolute, hopeful and optimistic disposition and commitment to live his own life to the full, and to bring and make meaning (and, in a word of the moment, change) through efforts on behalf of others, he set a model for all of us of what a single person can accomplish in this world--a model likely to be especially meaningful to primary school students.

Having listened to several of Jeff's assistants talk about the impact Jeff had on their lives, I am struck by the ways in which Jeff's life turns around our usual narratives of dependency, and enriches our concepts of human interconnection and the ways in which individuals bring meaning into one another's lives.

One final point: the available documentation of Jeff's life, including videos with Mr. Rogers, provide a living legacy that will be pedagogically meaningful for future generations of students who attend this school, and others in the Madison district. It will continue to signify something, beyond a name on the wall, for students who can come to realize what it means, in very personal terms, to attend the Jeff Erlanger School. Jeff will continue to touch and inspire students, much as he did through his all too brief life, lived to the fullest.

Thank you again for this opportunity to contribute to your deliberations....

No comments: