Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bob Sexton, Knowledge Class Leader

Bob Sexton, the Executive Director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, died yesterday. Mrs. G. has worked with and for the Prichard Committee since we arrived in Kentucky 20 years ago. Bob was a fixed star in our firmament.

The "knowledge class" is the class that makes its living from the control of knowledge necessary to run the social system. The term has fallen out of favor, but the class still exists and does vital work for society. As a professor I am classic representative of the type. But as a teacher I am also one step removed from running the institutions directly.

Bob Sexton was a general of the knowledge class. He tried to see the biggest picture of the knowledge needed to run the social system. He helped found or run a whole infrastructure to train, keep, and mobilize smart people for the good of the Commonwealth: the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington; the Kentucky Long-Term Policy Research Center; the New Opportunity School for Women; Kentucky's Governor's Scholars Program; the Kentucky Center for Public Issues.

The Prichard Committee is Bob Sexton's main legacy. It was born of a one-off blue ribbon commission that the Kentucky legislature created to make a report about improving higher education. They concluded that the best way to improve higher education in Kentucky was to improve lower education. And then the commission refused to die. Under Ed Prichard, from whom the Committee later took its name, and Bob Sexton, the Prichard Committee created a grass-roots movement to push for education reform. Behind the scenes, Bob worked with political leaders to pass the Kentucky Education Reform Act, the country's leading root-and-branch education reform initiative.

A few years ago my senior seminar focused on the knowledge class. We took a field trip to meet with Bob Sexton to talk about building a "creative class" in Kentucky, far from the natural settings for such a class.

Bob Sexton saw the big picture of how and why to build education for all classes. In doing so he exemplified the highest duty and deepest achievement of the knowledge class in service to society as a whole.