Resilience, the ability to withstand adversity and learning from one’s mistakes are traits of most strong leaders, Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin told an audience of AASA conference participants Thursday evening.
Goodwin toggled in her remarks at the 1st General Session between the past and the present, stressing the important role of public education today as she delivered the first-day keynote speech to a throng of those attending the AASA National Conference of Education in Nashville.
“In fact, never, I believe, has the role of our public school system in preparing young men and women for work, life and citizenship in our democracy been more vital than it is today in our tumultuous polarized world,” Goodwin said.
She drew a steady applause shortly after she announced that her oldest son is a high school teacher in Concord, Mass. – the town where he grew up and still resides.
“He found a vocation he truly loves most intensely,’’ Goodwin added.
In her remarks on stage, Goodwin examined the traits of the presidents she has chronicled – Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, William H. Taft and Lyndon Johnson – comparing them to the modern-day issues facing President Donald Trump.
“They had the ability to stay, motivate themselves,’’ she said. “Resilience is key to a leadership role.”
Goodwin offered how history offers context, perspectives to the presidency and challenges faced with a disillusioned citizenry. She said populist movements, akin to how Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, are part of America’s story.
“The potent mix of anger, anxiety and fear that fueled Trump’s momentum has clear echoes of the past,” she said.
In the turn in the 20th century, when the Industrial Revolution shook up the economy, when immigrants poured in, when big companies were swallowing smaller ones, people felt cut off, she said. This led to outsiders to run, a populist movement was growing, thinking it could restore America – the same platform we all heard from President Trump, she said.
Still, Goodwin said, the American presidents she chronicled cared about their legacy, the way history would remember them, a moral aspect to their leadership, a common mission for our country.
“That sense of common mission is what is needed today,’’ Goodwin said. “If it doesn’t come from the top, it’s up to all of us as citizens to provide it.”
All the ideals of equality have come from social movements – anti-slavery, civil rights movement, progressive movement, women’s rights, gay rights and environmental – and it can be done again, she said.
(Chris Echegaray, a freelance writer in Nashville, is a reporter for Conference Daily Online.)