I was thrilled to learn last winter that I had been chosen to receive the Grawemeyer Award in Education for 2014. To me, the Grawemeyer Award is the most important recognition of work in the five fields it honors: education, music, religion, world order, and psychology.


I was especially honored because the award had previously gone to my friends Linda Darling-Hammond and Pasi Sahlberg for their outstanding books.


The awards ceremonies were the week of April 15-17. As it happened, I fell and badly damaged my knee on April 5, and the earliest date I could see my knee surgeon was April 8. He gave me permission to go to Louisville so long as I agreed to use crutches, a wheelchair, a cane, whatever it took, and to see him as soon as I returned.


So, with the help of my partner, I arrived in Louisville on April 15 and had the help of Professors Diane Kyle and Melissa Evans-Andris, who took care of both of us from start to finish. I brought a walker, and they brought a wheelchair. They were our constant companions, and attended to my every need. They even thought to bring with them to the airport a basket of goodies for the caregiver, who is often neglected.


Impressions: Louisville is a beautiful city. There is public art on almost every downtown block. The hotel we stayed in was the C21 Museum Hotel, where the art is everywhere, changes often, and is hugely engaging.


There was a wonderful grand black-tie event, where all the award winners were introduced in a large ballroom, and each of us spoke for about five minutes. My favorite line came from Antonio Damasio, the wonderful man who won the award for psychology, who said that the great thing about the Grawemeyer award is that it is an award that recognizes the idea of ideas. I loved that.


Each of the award winners had the chance to meet with their colleagues on campus and with students in their discipline, and there was time for me to give a speech to the community. Soon after I spoke, I was interviewed, and asked to summarize the main idea of my book. This was condensed into a video that is about 3 or 4 minutes. Here it is. I should mention that I received the award for The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. I treat it as volume 1, followed by volume 2, Reign of Error.


The highlight of our visit to Louisville was getting to see this beautiful community. But there were two other highlights, and I can’t rank them. One was enjoying the companionship of Diane Kyle and Melissa Evans-Andris, who showed us what Kentucky hospitality was at its best. Next was a meeting one morning with civic and community leaders that included the superintendent of schools for Jefferson County and Mayor Greg Fisher. Before I spoke, Mayor Fisher said that his priorities were helping young children get off to a good start, attending to the needs of adolescents, and mental health. I found it refreshing to meet a smart, thoughtful mayor who understands that taking care of the health and well-being of children is the most important job for the community, not importing competition to put pressure on the schools for phony test score gains.


I can’t go on without saying that I had my first mint julep, and that we were in Louisville only two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, so the city had a festive spirit. Our hotel was only a block from the home store of the famous Louisville Slugger baseball bat. We passed Churchill Downs, where the Derby will be run. We got a sense of a city where art is treasured, and a university with the idea of honoring ideas. We encountered generous hospitality, a sense of proportion about what matters most, a caring and vibrant community, and a happy absence of that hardbitten sense that children must be tested until they cry.


What a wonderful experience it was!


Oh, and one other thing, not so small. Kentucky is one of the few states that does not permit charter schools. So every community works together to improve its public schools. What a treat to be in a place that dares to think differently, and to be reminded of an America that has not fallen into the clutches of Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, and the edu-entrepreneurs.