So there I was sitting in one of two highback chairs on the rostrum of one our city’s megachurches, getting ready to question the country’s second woman and second African-American Secretary of State. I was privileged to ask questions and get answers on education from former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice, who was in Indy at the invitation of The Mind Trust to talk about education before nearly 1,000 at Light of the World Church. The mixed crowd of Blacks and whites, Democrats and Republicans weren’t sure what Rice would say about education. But those expecting her to be a Dr. Tony Bennett clone were surprised at her moderate tone about improving the education of children; particularly African-American kids. Unlike some education reformers, Rice didn’t denigrate those who didn’t share her education views, but sought to find common ground through her passion and humor. Rice was pro choice, but she didn’t demonize teachers or parents. Rice acknowledged that parents who choose to keep their children in a so-called substandard school are “making a choice”. But she defended the charters and other innovations and explained educational competition this way. Rice asked me and the audience, “Why do foreign students come to the US to study?” Because of the high quality of American universities Rice answered saying, “When we Stanford (where she teaches) come up with an idea, it’s copied at Harvard, at Northwestern, at Indiana, at other schools”. She said that university competition benefits students and the nation. With that example she defended educational competition at the K-12 level, without throwing traditional public education under the bus. Rice was firm that we must challenge students to excel and be their best. And she defended parents saying that all “all parents want the best for their kids”. What was most surprising was Rice’s demeanor. Sitting two feet from her, what struck me most was Rice’s down-home manner and her great sense of humor. She used humor several times not just in her twenty minute remarks but in the thirty minute Q&A to make her points. Rice, who’s fifty-nine, looks younger in person, is engaging and someone you could have a deep discussion on education, Russian history on how good will Andrew Luck be this year. Despite working for a President many Blacks found anathema, Condoleezza Rice has always enjoyed a strong reservoir of goodwill among African-Americans of all political persuasions. It seems she’s getting out more and speaking on non-foreign policy issues that interest her, including education. Rice donated her time to The Mind Trust event, a great gift from her to our community. I hope her warm welcome in Indianapolis encourages her to speak out and engage our community more.
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