I Publius: The cycle of learning continues

Tuesday, November 4th was some day in the Chartock house. All of Roselle Chartock’s aspirations and hopes for America were met as Barack Obama became the president-elect and, in far off Princeton, N.J. another event was taking place.

Little Sarah Chartock, who came home from Fairview Hospital in a pink blanket about 31 years ago, became Dr. Sarah Chartock as she successfully defended her doctoral dissertation dealing with three Latin American countries and how they treated their indigenous populations. She had worked her butt off, a single woman living in Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru, interviewing policy makers in Spanish, poring over documents in a foreign language all the while staying in touch with her supportive but demanding Princeton professors, Deborah Yashar and Evan Lieberman.

To know Sarah is to understand what a true scholar is. Even as a graduate student who was teaching and taking classes at on of the nation’s most prestigious universities, she took her time, moaned and groaned under the weight of all she was doing and even managed to give two highly regarded presentations at the American Political Science Association’s major meetings. That was something that her political scientist father never managed to achieve.

Sarah the human being made a lot of friends growing up in Great Barrington. Meredith and Jenn Mazur and Emily Kern remain among her best friends today. She has always had that ability. She is now assistant professor (tenure track) at The College of New Jersey, the most selective in the New Jersey higher education system.

I don’t think it’s any secret that a few of her professors might have preferred that one of their best students take a job involving more research than teaching undergraduates, but to understand her decision, you have to know that Sarah really cares about communicating with young people. Once again she had the courage of her convictions and did what she wanted to do. Her professors, knowing Sarah, understood that she would continue to do the two things she really loves — teaching and writing on serious subjects.

There are choices to be made by parents. Right now, Barack Obama has to decide where to send his young children to school in Washington. Some believe his kids should go to public schools while others argue for good reason that his two daughters should go to private schools. The Chartocks had a similar decision to make right here in Berkshire County. Frankly, the outcome was determined in part by the fact that we never had a lot of money.

When Sarah and Jonas were kids, I can remember going to the bank to make sure we actually had the $200 in our checking account that we thought we had. So the kids went to public schools and are we ever lucky they did. They attended schools in the Southern Berkshire district when we lived in Alford, and they graduated from the schools serving Great Barrington. They had wonderful teachers in both places. These are people to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude.

At Monument Mountain, Sarah had teachers who instilled in her a love of learning and scholarship that has served her well in all she has done. She was salutatorian at her high school and later maintained an A average at both Cornell and Princeton.

The guidance of these wonderful men and women stayed with her during her time at Teach for America when she worked with Dominican kids in New York. Her high school teachers with names like Flynn, Beacco and Gray, among many others, are really why we are so lucky to be living here.

When I see people who raise an eyebrow and say, “Your kids went to public schools?” I tell them about Sarah and what she’s been doing and about Jonas who went to minor-league institutions like Cornell and Harvard and the University of Texas where he is working on his doctorate as while holding down one hell of a major job running the Charter School Institute of SUNY.

I tried reading this story to Sarah to check my facts but I found that I couldn’t do it. My eyes kept tearing up. Must be allergies. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s gratitude to her mother and her teachers and most of all to her for all that she has become.

Originally Published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/15/08

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