Letter: There are some qualities that technology cannot teach

President Barack Obama talks with speechwriter Cody Keenan, an RHS grad, aboard Air Force One on the flight to Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 12, 2011. —Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

To the Editor:

As a 1998 graduate of RHS, I urge the Board of Education to fiercely defend the English Department from budget cuts.  

Without the English language and literature instruction I received from my teachers, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Kathy Wassall was the first teacher to give me a “C.” When I asked why, rather than dismiss me as an insufferably entitled whiner, she sat me down and took me through my essay line-by-line, patiently explaining what I’d done wrong and how to do it right. Bob Cox’s unruly passion for literature made old texts come alive, not as mere stories, but allegories — someone’s way of holding a mirror up to society.

Their training prepared me to reach the pinnacle of my profession by the time I was 32 years old. But here’s the thing: every career track requires excellent training in the English arts.

Language courses aren’t about mimicking essay techniques — they’re about how to organize thoughts, formulate arguments, and hone them until they’re ready for the boardroom, the courtroom, the lecture hall, or the political arena. Literature courses aren’t about memorizing the plot of a famous novel — they’re about thinking critically and empathizing with worlds outside our own narrow experience.

I understand the difficult tradeoffs required in the budgeting process. But there are qualities that technology cannot teach — and depths of character it cannot reach. On the final day of each school year, Bob Cox awarded each of his students a cherished book from his own library. I still have his dog-eared copy of “Love in the Time of Cholera” with the handwritten note he left inside: “Cody — I hope life brings you only rewarding challenges.” Life has delivered, and then some. And my English teachers at Ridgefield High School made sure I was ready.

Cody Keenan

Chief Speechwriter for President Barack Obama

 

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