On this Halloween, I am in Lawrence, MA, joining the Andover Bread Loaf group of teachers from Lawrence’s public schools and the students who act as writing consultants throughout the city. Founded, inspired, and led by Lou Bernieri, a genius if ever there was one, Andover Bread Loaf has changed the lives of disenfranchised inner-city students and their teachers, as well as those of students attending the super-elite Phillips Academy (Andover). We are here celebrating the work of these students along with high school representatives from several Next Generation Leadership Network sites, each of which aims to engage young people in taking on leadership roles and in writing and speaking their way into, and then shaping, public discourse.
I will write more about this thrilling meeting in a week or so, but right now I am about to ask the students here what or who they might want to “be” this Halloween. I’ve thought a lot about this question this year. Everywhere I look I see greedy, craven, corrupt people: no one out there to emulate. No one to look up to or admire unless I look very locally, to people like Lou or the fabulous teachers he works with. But then I thought again. And I was sure: if I were to “be” someone today, this Halloween, someone who represents the best of us, well, I’d be Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the “notorious RBG.”
In a Times editorial published a few weeks ago, columnist Thomas Friedman wrote of going to the opening concert of the National Symphony Orchestra:
At mid-concert, the chairman of the Kennedy Center, David M. Rubinstein, came out to greet the audience and the V.I.P.s. He welcomed the different ambassadors, then he went through the cabinet members present and then the Supreme Court justices. He introduced Justice Samuel Alito, who got a smattering of applause. Then he introduced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, seated in the balcony. First many women in the audience stood up to applaud. And then everyone stood up. And then everyone applauded. And then everyone applauded more. And then some people cheered. And then some whistled. And it went on and on and on.
It was extraordinary. I’ve been to a lot of Kennedy Center concerts, and a few when the president, sitting in his official box, was introduced. But I’ve never witnessed anything like the reception for Justice Ginsburg. And this was not a totally liberal audience. There were many older G.O.P. donors and corporate types there. This was a spontaneous, bipartisan expression of respect for, and longing for, a national leader of integrity and humility — after three years of a president utterly without shame, for whom no ethical red line has been too red to cross.
There is still a civic pulse in this country. (New York Times, Oct. 1, 2019)
If Friedman is right, if there is a “civic pulse” in the country and if there is truly longing for a “national leader of integrity and humility,” then I agree with him that Justice Ginsburg is such a person. On this Halloween, she’s my hero and the person I’d most like to “dress up” as. And not just that: she’s the person I want to hold before me as a steady, reassuring force for honesty and fairness and, yes, humility—and then try as hard as I can to “be like RBG.”
If you’re teaching today, ask your students who they would most like to “go as” on Halloween and why. This could be a fun writing prompt that leads to an interesting discussion!
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