California Notebook: Masterclass

Above is a picture of Scott Barry Kaufman, author of one of my favorite — very chewy — books on education: Ungifted. I saw him speak in California, and his presentation was startlingly good. I enjoyed the content and cannot wait to read his next book. But his presentation itself was, in style, completely compelling. It cut through the noise, typical at conferences, and my jet lag.

He set the scene at the very start when he asked us not to take pictures. (The above picture is the last one I took.) He was presenting some material for the very first time. But, he said, “that’s not the only reason to put down your phones. You should put down your phones because we’re here . . . together . . . in this room . . . together . . . and that should mean something.”

He was right, of course. I had travelled all the way from New Jersey. I had endured a long plane ride, put stress on my family and colleagues, altered my diet, etc. It was great to attend a session with a speaker who acknowledged that, however implicitly. His opening was a prompt to presence, an invitation to a totally unique experience, an immediate return on my investment.

And after his opening, he told jokes, shared stories, expressed vulnerability, showed his academic chops, taught, sought, wondered aloud, and then stopped. I believe, by that point, we were all as breathless as he was.

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