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In the chancellor’s wallet: ed dialectics and a dismissal of critics

Yesterday in an eighth-grade social studies class, Chancellor Joel Klein pulled out his wallet and gave students a window into his philosophy of leadership.

Prompted by a student’s summer project on Theodore Roosevelt, the chancellor stood and removed a slip of paper from his wallet. He explained that he carries around a quotation from a speech Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910.

Here’s the full text of what Klein read the students:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man or woman who points out how the strong man or woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself or herself in a worthy cause.

The quotation sheds light on the worldview of a chancellor whose boasts about narrowing the achievement gap have recently been challenged and who is sometimes accused of steamrolling over public dissent.

“The real message is that leadership — getting into the arena, which is tough, you’ll have a lot of critics — really matters,” Klein told the students.

In his speech, Roosevelt referred only to the “strong man;” Klein seems to have made the quotation gender-neutral on the fly for the future female presidents in the room. You can read Roosevelt’s full speech here.

Klein was speaking at an eighth-grade social studies class at the Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School, one of the stops on his back-to-school tour. Later, Klein told reporters that he also carries around two quotations he clipped from the New York Times “a long time ago.” One, he said, argues that the way to solve education’s woes is to first eliminate poverty; the other argues that the way to get rid of poverty is to first fix education.

“It’s like the perfect point, counter-point,” he said.

In a senior economics class at Queens Gateway, Klein also gave students a glimpse of what is on his bookshelf. During a conversation about why good schools play a key role in the U.S. economy, Klein mentioned that a book by two Harvard economists, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, ranks among his favorite books of recent memory.

The book is “The Race Between Education and Technology.” Its authors attribute rising inequality in the United States to the failure of the American school system, beginning in the 1970s, to keep pace with the technological advances that required new skills of its work force.

As chancellor, Klein is known to draw inspiration and policy tips from books, and this book’s thesis may have informed the “virtual schools” model several schools are piloting this year as part of the Department of Education’s new iZone program.