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Seeds: Don Quixote de Alamosa

Posted: Tuesday, Jan 8th, 2013

While skimming the New York Times headlines last week, a reference to Cervantes and advice for the new year was intriguing enough for a click of the mouse, and not just for this one Valley resident.

The Andrew C. Revkin article was published in the Dot Earth section of The Opinion Pages on Jan. 1, 2013, and it wasn’t much more than a recollection of wisdom preserved and passed on for centuries. Revkin reprinted a passage from the legendary story, adding it is a “407-year-old bit of inspiration for diving into a new year in turbulent, consequential and complicated times.”

And so the man of La Mancha wrote so long ago, “For come, tell me, can there be anything more delightful than to see, as it were, here now displayed before us a vast lake of bubbling pitch with a host of snakes and serpents and lizards, and ferocious and terrible creatures of all sorts swimming about in it, while from the middle of the lake there comes a plaintive voice saying: ‘Knight, whosoever thou art who beholdest this dread lake, if thou wouldst win the prize that lies hidden beneath these dusky waves, prove the valour of thy stout heart and cast thyself into the midst of its dark burning waters, else thou shalt not be worthy to see the mighty wonders contained in the seven castles of the seven Fays that lie beneath this black expanse;’ and then the knight, almost ere the awful voice has ceased, without stopping to consider, without pausing to reflect upon the danger to which he is exposing himself, without even relieving himself of the weight of his massive armour, commending himself to God and to his lady, plunges into the midst of the boiling lake, and when he little looks for it, or knows what his fate is to be, he finds himself among flowery meadows, with which the Elysian fields are not to be compared.”

After revisiting a few more memories of Cervantes and the power of words, Revkin concluded, “This kind of exhortation feels right now, as well, whether your role in confronting global challenges, and opportunities, is as a scientist, communicator, inventor, teacher, student, elected leader or simply human being.”

Scrolling down the page to the dreaded land of reader comments, a place where only the brave should roam, surprisingly the first New York Times comment pick belonged to a man from Alamosa, an Adams State University professor and, according to his own comment, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of Alamosa.

“For over four decades now I have oft been referred to as a Don Quixote because I have fought to improve schools for everyone,” ASU business professor Ed Lyell wrote on Jan. 2, 2013. “Thanks for this (Cervantes) quote since I need the encouragement to continue that all but thankless battle to get public schools to improve, or perhaps just get out of the way. When elected to the Colorado State Board of Education, as a Democrat, and taking on the teacher unions I saw educational technology as the potential transformational tool. I still believe it is and welcome efforts in charter schools, online schools, and especially the work of digital now and its efforts through the Foundation for Excellence in Education.”

In response, a very angry and patronizing man from Illinois who appeared to be a frequent poster tried to slay the knight from the Valley where one day the schools are praised and the next condemned. He accused Lyell of wanting to turn all children into “drones” and having “future teacher-robots” assumedly because he supports technology in the classroom. The responder even went so far to offer Lyell a hug as a means to fix his viewpoints.

Not knowing anything more about Lyell than he is brave enough to post in the New York Times comments in addition to the introduction on his website, it is a comfort knowing that there is a Don Quixote of this caliber in Alamosa. It would have behooved the responder from Illinois to learn about Alamosa, about Colorado and about its education situation that is plagued with problems in which there are a number of solutions on the table. If only more people like Lyell would take risks, speak up, serve and take the time to respond when really touched, maybe humanity wouldn’t be disappearing from the classroom, the business meeting or the home, and the children could begin to learn again under the guidance of confident and prepared teachers in a system that is open to change and adaptation for a future contains great technologies.

Lyell, what an inspiration you are for these turbulent, consequential and complicated times.

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