What will be your legacy?


What will be your legacy?

In 2003 (as I remember), I was asked this question. The question followed the most concise history of time I had ever seen: a timeline drawn in chalk across three of the four walls of a classroom by a professor as he spoke to his class. He speculatively marked the beginning of all time and walked through major historical events, such as the birth of the planet and the end of the dinosaurs, all the while contemplating on the significance of time. Right before his line ended, near the very end of the third wall of blackboards and after just beginning to chart the dawn of the human species (literally just a few inches of wall contained everything from the first humans to the Crusades to World War Two), he stopped briefly to ask someone their birthdate. He marked it on the line. His hand moved probably less than a millimeter. He marked their death. Then, the last remains of the chalkboard and his continued walk across the fourth wall of the room was accompanied by just this description- Time will continue, the endless march of time. You were here so briefly. What was important to you? What was changed for the better by you? What did you do with your brief existence? Anything? What will be your legacy?

Like any talk meant to inspire, this question could have been forgotten. I have heard it hundreds of ways. What made this different was the individual asking it. He wasn’t trying to become the next self-help guru or to land his own TED talk. He was simply trying to set the stage for and facilitate future lessons to align to the differentiated goals for students in his course (on the lifelong professional development of our own abilities in leadership). Students could, upon reflecting on this question, begin to connect the learning experiences to something personally held to be important.

Things appear to be divergent. To an outsider, every action or word uttered may appear to be completely reactionary or disparate events in a life. However, once one knows something about their potential legacy…once someone really understands what drives them, all decisions…every action is fueled with more responsibility to the vision one had set for themselves and the world around them.

I believe this idea of legacy works for all people, organizations, etc. It is what helps to provide one with a personal “brand”.

I have been asking this question of the educational leaders I’ve interviewed over the last couple of months. I ask them, at the conclusion of course-based questions: What do you want your legacy for education/students/teaching/etc. to be? Why? What is (fill in name of school or district or group of people) like after you are gone? What are you doing to affect that change now?

The answers are all different. Every individual has a unique vision of their legacy, whether they want to change the educational landscape for struggling students to those that want to change the opportunities for potential careers in their district from access to technology-rich programs to those that just want to be forgotten.

As I just write these brief, unedited thoughts in the middle of the night, I am thinking about my personal goals, my mission, my potential legacy. I wonder if those with whom I work have ever considered these things. I wonder if our team has a collective mission…or if there is a thought to what our team legacy will be. What is our brand and why?


Photo- shot from Verrazano–Narrows Bridge, on my way to running the New York Marathon again in 2011.

Dewey and Vygotzky on Art and Some Favorite Books on Aesthetics


Aesthetics and the blind search for a cogent statement that would tie an aesthetic philosophy neatly in a bow are kind of Quixotic aspirations for me. However, I again search through Merleau-Ponty, Sontag, Adorno, etc…and learning theories…which always lead me to these two gentlemen.

“Apart from organs inherited from animal ancestry, ideas and purpose would be without a mechanism of realization…the intervention of consciousness adds regulation, power of selection, and redisposition…its intervention leads to the idea of art as a conscious idea- the greatest intellectual achievement in the history of humanity.” – Dewey, Art as Experience (1934)

“We shall never be able to understand the laws governing the feelings and emotions in a work of art without proper psychological investigation. It is also remarkable that the sociological studies of art are unable to completely explain the mechanics of a work of art.” – Lev Vygotzky, (1925)


Favorite Books about (or regarding aspects of) Aesthetics:

  • Susan Sontag– So many…Against Interpretation, Regarding the Pain of Others, Illness as Metaphor, On Photography, Styles of Radical Will….and just endless short essays. I just bought a copy of the complete essays collection through the late 70s…brilliant collection.
  • Elaine Scarry’s On Beauty and Being Just…anything by Scarry is good, but this is focused on aesthetics and is really excellent.
  • Maurice Merleau-PontyPhenomenology of Perception, because of its expansive scope…and his radio lectures, The World of Perception, because it is simplified and easily digested.
  • John Dewey– Art as Experience- wonderful connection to his other work. If you are even remotely interested in perception and learning/interpretation, this book is kind of required reading.
  • Gerhard Richter– The Daily Practice of Painting (essays and interviews, etc.)
  • Francis Bacon, Interviewed by David Sylvester– Actually, this was kind of like my bible during a certain period of my 20s. Any interviews with David Sylvester are going to be amazing. These are definitely the most defining and honest he’s had with an artist. This goes way beyond art, though. It gets to the crux of what it means to be human and struggling with any form of creative act. The title is
  • Lev VygotzkyThe Psychology of Art…This little masterpiece (as well as most of his writing) wasn’t really available to the world until the last few decades. However, this book (1925), is way ahead of its time and builds a beautifully written narrative on what it means to perceive a work of art, what art represents for humanity, and what can be learned. Great education thinker.
  • Carolee SchneemanImaging Her Erotics…This is essays, interviews, etc. with one of the recognizable faces of body art/performance art/feminist art. Schneeman’s writing and discussions lead the way for great essays and books by Karen Finley (A Different Kind of Intimacy), Amelia Jones (Body Art/Performing the Subject), and Jane Blocker (What the Body Cost…which is one of those books that changes you…and Where is Ana Mendieta).
  • Recently, I am enjoying Tim Ingold’s anthropolical-based essays on creativity. These are available through a simple search. Almost everything is fun to read and starts my mental motor.
  • Getting back into T. Adorno’s Aesthetic Philosophy…the one he was writing when he died. This should be treated as a encyclopedia…at least for me, it is. I can’t start in that book in a normal way. I just pick it up, and where the pages fall open, that’s where I start reading.
  • KadinskyConcerning the Spiritual in Art. Awesome and tightly written…very unlike his own paintings, which are gorgeous and labyrinthian types of compositions.
  • Just another great book- Pamela M. Lee’s Object to be Destroyed (on the work of Gordon Matta-Clark….but, again, jumps into all kinds of a philosophy on aesthetics).

Not posting direct links to purchase these things. But, if you find any of the titles interesting, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor in finding, borrowing, purchasing, or stealing a copy.

Some covers: