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Who's in the Video

Elizabeth Alexander

Elizabeth Alexander – poet, educator, memoirist, scholar, and arts activist – is president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the nation's largest funder in arts and culture, and humanities in[…]

Elizabeth Alexander: If you look at great works of literature I always thought about how in literature in art and culture there are tools for living. And I think that one of the tools for living that you find in wonderful works of literature is that: human beings are complicated and flawed. Human beings are not all one way. Human beings are best understood in their complexity. And if only we had more of that in our day to day.

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be an excellent educator, now that for the first time in my really most of my adult life—I was a journalist for a minute but I've been a teacher, and now—that's not my job anymore. So I've been thinking about what are the transferrable properties, and what are the ways that in our communities we think about mentorship, we think about empowerment, we think about sharing, not just to impose knowledge but rather to share knowledge in a dynamic way that again is about the self-empowerment that comes from knowledge, from having an expanded mind, for having sharper tools, for being able to evaluate contradiction and hold contradiction aloft sometimes?
I think a good learning environment has to have, I think, the tenet that brave failure is preferable to timid success. By which I mean I think our minds are great and powerful things, and I think that to have courage inform our thinking and to be able to go out perhaps past where we may be comfortable, to go into the unknown between human beings and see where that takes us, to not stay safe in our own position but to make it safe for other people to be able to share—I think that's where we get to new ideas. I think that's where we get to brave ideas. I think that's where we get to solutions that we might not otherwise have found. So fostering an environment that where people can be brave and where ideas don't always have to be pristine, I think, is very important.