By: Ormand Moore
This summer I participated in my first ICDL. My only experience with Kallion before ICDL was as a participant in a Circle led by Norman and centered on Jamie Raskin’s memoir Unthinkable. I knew these were the kinds of people I wanted to spend more time with – curious, reflective and thoughtful, lovers of books and ideas. Most importantly, my fellow Circle participants faced the world with optimism and a desire to do something good. I was delighted to find more folks like that at ICDL this summer.
I’m a high school teacher in North Carolina. I won’t lie – the past two years have been hard. Students are struggling emotionally, comfortable old routines feel dated, and many assumptions about the classroom hurt more than help. Teaching in 2022 feels topsy-turvy. So many changes have happened in all our lives – and in the world – that looking at your syllabus and asking, “what does any of this even mean?” feels reasonable. ICDL helped me out of this teaching cul-de-sac.
My favorite ICDL sessions got me excited about you can do with texts. When uninspired, I treat my American Studies syllabus as a bucket-filling tool. There’s a set of ideas, events, themes, and texts I imagine my students have to know, and I’ll poor all that into their minds. Several thrilling discussions in ICDL shook me out of that mindset and into the more inspired notion that a well-chosen text can be the occasion for sparks to fly, and for thoughts to arise from students that surprise even them. My first workshop of the week, called “Democracy on Trial” and led by Irene Morrison-Moncure, centered on the Orestia and Julius Caesar. Dr. Morrison-Moncure encouraged us to use these plays as tools for thinking about democracy, not texts to scan for answers to our current dilemmas. Another splendid seminar led by John Esposito used a very short passage from the Aeneid to help us conceptualize the complexities inherent in being a leader and a human being. In a standout seminar led by Ashleigh Coren about the conflict between Ida B. Wells and Frances Willard, we came to realize how failures in leadership can result from failures in moral courage and vision. These and other excellent seminars were led by knowledgeable people who presented the texts or historical events as dramatizations of complex and insoluble human dilemmas, relevant, even after thousands of years, because they are revealing about human nature. In each case, the seminars sparked lively and interesting discussion among the participants.
ICDL wasn’t about plucking from ancient texts the answers to US democracy’s problems. Instead, people came to practice how to think, act, and lead when things get hard. And things are hard right now – not just teaching, but keeping faith in our democracy. I am thankful to ICDL for highlighting that democracy is a project that we do together, and that the project involves creative leadership, deep reflection, and joy. The most interesting ideas in a classroom or seminar aren’t handed down, but arise collaboratively and can’t be foreseen by the instructor or students. I loved this year’s ICDL for cultivating that democratic spirit in the seminars. I am inspired to leap into this academic year and see what my students and I can accomplish together.