“We’re going to engage you in a discussion of a political, controversial issue,” said Paula McAvoy to the nearly 30 Central High School students assembled in the school library.
The students had filtered slowly into the room that morning to participate in an exercise similar to those that McAvoy and her colleague, Diana Hess, observed taking place in high school classrooms in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Their 4-year study of 35 teachers and their 1,000-plus students was the basis for the book, “The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education,” which earned Hess and McAvoy the 2017 Grawemeyer Award in Education.
A seemingly simple fill-in-the-blank exercise, “When I think about American politics I feel ________ because ________,” kindled discussion among the Central High students and, under Hess and McAvoy’s guidance, grew into a lively debate that cleared the early morning brain fog and spurred the school’s library media specialist, Lynn Reynolds, to effuse, “You have opposing views and you didn’t get mad! You listened to the different sides … You’ll be active citizens. You’ll be the example.”
Hope for a better tomorrow and the belief that ideas have the power to change the world prompted H. Charles Grawemeyer to establish in 1984 the awards program that bears his name. Since then, more than $14 million has been awarded to 148 winners across five fields: music composition, political science, education, religion and psychology.
The 2017 honorees — Hess, McAvoy, Andrew Norman, Dana Burde, Gary Dorrien and Marsha Linehan — recently visited the University of Louisville to accept their $100,000 prizes and to discuss their award-winning ideas.
Diana Hess and Paula McAvoy – Education
The civil exchange of ideas and opinions that Hess and McAvoy led at Central High School demonstrated to students and onlookers alike that tackling controversial subjects in the classroom need not be taboo. “Our idea is that schools are a very good place to teach young people how to participate politically,” said Hess.
McAvoy added that when teachers encourage conversations about difficult political issues, “it is time well-spent in the classroom, that students really enjoy it, that it makes them more interested in politics, [and] they leave the class with a deeper knowledge of democracy …”
View video of Hess and McAvoy’s lecture.
View the video news story about the Central High School visit.
Andrew Norman – Music Composition
“‘Play’ is a universe that I created. It has a bunch of rules that determine how musicians interact with each other and the different ways they can control each other,” said Norman of his award-winning, 47-minute orchestral work. “It’s an exploration of those ideas, control and how people react to them and then, ultimately, how a group of people might actually break through a system of rules or controls and create something new.”
The Boston Modern Orchestra Project performed the premiere of “Play” in 2013. Since then, the piece, which Norman said he’s rewritten “three or four times now,” has received considerable attention and critical acclaim, including a Grammy Award nomination.
Norman also outlined the distinction between listening to a recording of “Play” versus experiencing the piece being performed live. “To be there with the musicians as they’re actually making it and seeing them physically is really what this piece is about.”
Local audiences will have the opportunity next April to immerse themselves in Norman’s musical universe when the Louisville Orchestra performs “Play” as part of its Festival of American Music.
View photos from Norman’s lecture.
Dana Burde – Ideas Improving World Order
Burde earned the 2017 World Order award for analyzing the relationship between education and political violence in Afghanistan, where she’s conducted research for more than a decade. Her 2014 book, “Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan” traces how foreign-backed funding for education can either undermine or support state-building and peacebuilding.
“Our U.S. government funded a curriculum to develop jihad literacy in the 1980s. And we did that because we thought it was critically important to undermine the Soviets who were occupying Afghanistan,” said Burde. “These textbooks cultivated a link — a very strong link — between religion and violence.”
Burde’s award-winning work also highlights positive outcomes of foreign aid and the power of good quality curricula and accessible, community-based schools. “Thoughtful aid that responds to important needs and social services can be very effective and much of our aid in Afghanistan has been, I would argue.”
View photos from Burde’s lecture.
Gary Dorrien – Religion
Beginning in the late 1800s and continuing through the early 20th century, progressive Christian leaders in North America advocated the Church’s responsibility to deal with the earthly matters of human rights and equality. This religious social-reform movement is known as the Social Gospel and has been widely — and incompletely — documented.
“I have long had this belief that the most important part of the story of the American Social Gospel and its enormous influence in American life, in politics, in society, in religion has just not been told because mostly it gets told as though it’s mostly white people and their institutions, and their ecumenical movement and their churches … that ends up dominating the narrative,” said Dorrien, whose 2015 book, “The New Abolition: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Black Social Gospel,” earned him the 2017 religion award, which is presented jointly by UofL and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Dorrien details the history of the Black Social Gospel and how it became a critical forerunner of the civil rights movement. “The greatest story we have in this country is the story of Martin Luther King Jr., and his formation, and his impact on society…” he said. “I hope it is an okay book, but I know it’s on a great subject.”
View photos from Dorrien’s lecture.
Marsha Linehan – Psychology
“My goal was to treat people who were high risk for suicide and difficult to treat,” said psychology winner Linehan. “I was looking to get people, essentially, out of hell.”
Linehan’s goal was achieved through her trial-and-error development of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which research has shown to be effective for conditions previously considered untreatable, including chronic suicidality and borderline personality disorder. DBT teaches patients new behavioral skills to balance acceptance and change, and was the first psychotherapy to incorporate the practice of mindfulness — being fully aware in the present moment and developing a nonjudgmental attitude — as an essential component.
“A lot of the treatment, not all of it but a lot of it, is training people how to change their own behavior to change their own lives,” said Linehan. “And the goal of the entire treatment is how to build a life that you experience as worth living.”
View photos from Linehan’s lecture.