Nostalgia And Reflection…

It seems appropriate to be reflective on this very challenging Thanksgiving. Especially, perhaps, at my stage in the life-cycle.

As we approach the end of a truly horrible year for everyone, I am also approaching the end of what has been a genuinely rewarding and satisfying career. Not my only career–I’ve had several (my mother used to say I didn’t have a resume, I had an itinerary…) After twenty years of “professoring,” I will retire from the faculty of the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis at the end of the current semester, which is next month.

There are all sorts of emotions that surface at times like this. When I joined the faculty at what was then just SPEA–the School of Public and Environmental Affairs–I was conflicted about my separation from the Indiana affiliate of the ACLU, which I had directed for the preceding six years. (You can know that it is time for a change, and still be emotionally connected to a position. It’s like realizing that your baby has grown up and needs to be independent.)

Teaching at the university–my “portfolio” was law and public policy–has taught me so much. Far more, I’m sure, than I was able to impart to my students. Those students, by and large (there were definitely exceptions) gave me reason to hope for a kinder, better country and world–as I have said in many of the posts to this blog, I would turn the world over to the younger generation in a heartbeat! They didn’t always come into my classes with sound understandings of America’s history or legal traditions (okay, that’s being kind), but they came with good values and open hearts, and a desire to make the world better.

One of the things I will always be grateful for was the freedom the school gave me to design my classes and create new ones. Aside from my “Law and Public Affairs” classes, I created and taught Media and Public Affairs–originally, as a team teaching effort with Jim Brown, the then-Dean of the Journalism School, and later with others, including John Mutz, former Lieutenant Governor of Indiana. (I used to say it was a new preparation every year, because it was a different media every year…)

There were several other courses that I made up. One of my favorites was “Individual Rights and the Common Good,” basically a philosophy of government course.

I’ve just begun going through the detritus of the past twenty years, and I found my notes for that class. I was struck by the fact that the issues it focused upon were the same ones that consume discussions on this blog: what is government for? If–as Aristotle said–the good society is one that facilitates human flourishing–what should such a society look like? What do we mean by “human flourishing”? How should such a society be governed? What is the common good?

And of course, there is the constant question of balance–what concessions must  individual rights make to the maintenance of the common good? (Could there be a better example of that tension than the one we see in the current, ugly politicization of mask wearing?)

As I leafed through my teaching binder for Individual Rights and the Common Good, I scanned the readings I’d assigned–beginning with Aristotle, proceeding through De Tocqueville and Rawls, Feinberg and MacIntyre and ending with several Supreme Court cases that put legal flesh on the philosophical “bones” of theory.

As I scanned the readings, I was struck once again by De Tocqueville’s observation that “Individualism is likewise dangerous to society because when a large segment of the population is isolated and indifferent to the welfare of those around them, they become unwilling and then unable to band together to prevent tyranny.” In my classes, we discussed this observation, the important differences between individualism and selfishness, and the meaning of De Tocqueville’s next sentences: “Equality puts men side by side without a common link to hold them firm. Despotism raises barriers to keep them apart.”

I will really miss hearing what my students think about America’s prospects in the wake of our recent, close encounter with despotism. For that matter, I will miss my students. A lot.

But when it’s time, it’s time.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

58 thoughts on “Nostalgia And Reflection…

  1. Your wit, intellect and caring will be sorely missed by future generations. Thank you for all you have done on behalf of freedom, common sense and justice.

  2. Thanks for all your wonderful work. Get some rest and see what comes next. I bet it will be interesting and informative. Be well 🙂

  3. Happy Thanksgiving, Sheila!

    The discussion about individualism and collectivism are essential regardless of what class is being taught. It’s that duality that makes us human and stresses the importance of decision-making. All the greats capture that essence of the human spirit, including you.

    Keep it real no matter what the next chapter brings.

    I have been drumming Mike Pompeo and Antony Blinken to release Julian Assange from Belmarsh prison. Our truth-tellers are extremely important whether we like them or not. Those behind us can tidy things up.

    If you have 4 minutes, you might want to listen to our incoming SoS, Antony Blinken. His stepfather’s story about surviving the Holocaust and rescue, albeit brief, even brings chills to this salty dog:

  4. I hope you’re not ending your blog!
    It’s part of my morning routine. You’ve given us so much to think about, and a frame of reference to guide us. Enjoy retirement!

  5. “Teaching at the university–my “portfolio” was law and public policy–has taught me so much. Far more, I’m sure, than I was able to impart to my students.”

    Sheila; for many of us, your blog has been an extension of your university classes. Informative, enlightening, thought provoking, often sending us on “homework assignments” to research further on issues. At times we don’t agree with your views but I have never believed that is why you post this blog each and every day; you are not seeking support for your ego. One of the greatest lessons I have learned here is how much I do not know and how vital an education in civics has always been and how sadly lacking it is.

    Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving! Stay safe!

  6. Congratulations Professor Kennedy on beginning the next stage of your journey. And like Vicki, your blog is an important part of my morning wake up routine with a first cup of coffee before heading downstairs yoga. Be safe, be well and be always on guard!

  7. Like JoAnn, I too have learned so much from your blog. Wish you had been at SPEA when I was a student there in the early 70s. Happy for you that you can retire. Happy for us that you will still publish this blog.
    Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

  8. Here’s to a well deserved retirement — can’t imagine them trying to replace you. And, selfishly, I’m also happy you’re not discontinuing your blog. We need you! This state needs you. This country needs you. Enjoy your retirement. I hope you’ll blog occasionally about what you’re enjoying during retirement.

  9. Sheila,

    Congratulations on a series of excellent careers. Now, you will be starting your next one. “Retirement” for people like us isn’t about finding a rocking chair and having a cup of tea while watching the leaves change color. We have spent too many years accumulating information, knowledge and good sense. We will continue to impart the distillation of that knowledge and information in some new form.

    When I stopped teaching science, I began becoming a student of politics and government. My weekly columns in a conservative, local paper received good reviews from a populace that votes 72% Republican. I hope that you will find ways to do more than vent. All of these essays you have written – just since I’ve been reading them – could be like seeds falling from a great tree. Collect them up, sort out the bad ones and use the batch of good ones to grow something greater than the tree from which they fell.

    I hope you will keep us apprised of the books you are about to write and where we can find them.

  10. I can’t believe that you are retiring soon! You have made me grow light years in my depth and understanding of the world around me. My first wish (selfishly) is that you become the Secretary of Education. That would be the ultimate step in securing that the critical loss of meaningful curricula at all levels could insure that we stand a decent chance to keep righting the ship.
    The other thing, again rather a selfish request….. how about an online lecture or class… even if it’s only once or twice a week!
    The bottom line Sheila, is that we need you. And a few others, to better prepare us for the future so that another runaway cart doesn’t go careening down the aisles of America toppling over everything in it’s path.
    And a final wish is a reading list. Even once or twice a year if you could perhaps provide some suggestions for what you would consider vital reading. I consume at least a book a week, the only benefit to almost a year of isolation.
    But most importantly I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart! You are a warrior of wit and knowledge, and such incredible insight and experience.
    A dear friend of mine who shares your last name was how I discovered you long ago. For the longest time I just assumed that she was posting something from a sibling. Once I opened the post and read it I’ve been hooked! I even recall you writing about Pence long before anyone really knew who/what he was.
    Ok, sorry for rambling. Congratulations on a fabulous career, and for helping us figure it all out! Good luck to you Sheila, you are a saint!
    I will be toasting you today and for many future days! Happy Thanksgiving Sheila!

  11. Your comment about the class discussion on individualism illustrates the incredible value of a well-taught liberal arts education. You have been of service to all of us in helping young people to grapple with these important questions. Congratulations and thanks for all you’ve done for IUPUI and the city of Indianapolis. May your gifts continue to enrich us through the blog and the other ways you find to share them in your retirement. It’s a wonderful time of life. Enjoy it!

  12. Beloved memorable professors never die. Neither do they retire. The lower right hand corner signature changes on a monthly check, but the professor lives on. Did Alexis retire?😎

  13. Greetings Sheila. Thank you for today’s history account. I’m am impressed with your journey.
    I am glad that you will stay here with us. gentle feelings “) “) “) Irvin

  14. Happy Thanksgiving Sheila. So glad to hear that you’ll continue this blog. My day starts with coffee and Sheila!

  15. Congrats Sheila!

    May your new found freedom be as rewarding as your effort to enlighten.

    And, speaking of Aristotle, (by the way) this is not directed at Sheila in any way shape or form. (Just a personal observation)

    Aristotle was an outspoken critic of traditional forms of religion! That being said, he also believed in the value of the religious construct as it related to society. In other words, its institutions and its institutional value on society, including ties that bind, making those in specific religions equal to each other in that specific religion and therefore finding them together for a common goal.

    Of course Aristotle was a philosopher and he really liked the sound of his own musings, but he also recognized things greater than self.

    On the other hand, de Tocqueville was a professed Roman Catholic! And, I might also add that he to arrived at something similar to what Aristotle was referring to. That religion was important to the social construct of civilization because it forged ties that bind! At least ties that bind in that particular religion.

    Alexis de Tocqueville also believed that there should be a separation between church and state, not allowing them to meld together. His idea of religion was that it solidified societal cohesion and therefore made the politics stronger because people were willing to make better informed ideas and actually stick to those political ideals. In other words, not letting politics be infiltrated with those looking to destroy a particular form of government or society. Aristotle was of a very similar mind!

    The mistake that was made, was to allow religious fanaticism to creep in to politics! In a free society, you can’t really be all things to all people, because all people do not want to go on the same direction.

    Although I do think de Tocqueville could not have foreseen the rise of Fascism which of course was a combination of authoritarianism and Protestant evangelical fanaticism.

    So, were both of these historical stalwarts wrong about religion? Were they fanatics? If they were standing in front of you today would you insult them? Would you be confrontational and judgmental? After all, they’re just men.

    Aristotle was around before the dark ages of history began, de Tocqueville was around after they ended. They both recognized similar patterns and their benefits to societal construct.

    So, how many on this particular thread could debate these 2 historical figures and point out how wrong they are, using our exponentially increased knowledge on how the universe functions? I don’t think it would work out well for the debaters. I don’t know, maybe we are so much more enlightened than the rest of history, even the dumbest of the dumb are more intellectual than some of the stalwarts of history!

  16. Sheila,
    Living in Indianapolis over the years, I have always been surprised about the quiet reach and influence that the SPEA school has had in the city of Indianapolis. I suspect very few people know that the school exists, but if you pay attention, much public policy in the city gets shaped with input from SPEA. Often you will hear that this ordinance xxxx policy was shaped with input from a SPEA school study, or just as often, a new policy or program was proposed because of a study done by the school. Indianapolis is lucky to have such a resource, and with the caliber of people they seem to attract, you should be proud to have been among them.

    I am also honored to be able to participate in this blog discussion every day.

    Thank you so much.

  17. 🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃🦃
    Sheila, I hope you enjoy your family! Life is too short to let those moments get away, tomorrow is not promised, so love them like there is no tomorrow.❤️

  18. We are all better off for what you have contributed through your teaching. This will now free you up to be a “visiting” professor at some of the other colleges and universities in Indiana. I’d be happy to get you down to Hanover. Thank you and congratulations for a job well done!

  19. Ms. Kennedy, you and this blog are a gift as well as all the readers who comment. I appreciate your writings and expertise. You will enjoy retirement, though it does bring mixed blessings at times. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

  20. I have so enjoyed reading and have learned so much from your blog. Please keep writing.

    Also, as an older person myself, I find it interesting figuring out what to let go of and what to hold onto.

  21. Dear Sheila,
    Thank you and congratulations for all you have done. Thank you for enriching my life and the lives of everyone that you have touched. I will not be far behind you when I retire from the Court next September. Please give my best to Bob and the family, and when the COVID-19 virus is over, I look forward to lunch or dinner.

  22. I have enjoyed your comments and perspectives of the world. As a former teacher, you learn more in preparation than the students that you teach.

    As for your retirement from the profession I’m sure that won’t change your mind about making comment on the world and civilization. I’m looking forward to hearing your perspective.

    Best wishes to you.

  23. May your retirement be as fulfilling as your stints with both IUPUI and Indiana ACLU. I’m genuinely happy that you’ll still be blogging. I suspect that you will continue to be active in many arenas, especially in your fight against Gerrymandering. Whether they realize it or not, the people of Indiana have a treasure in you.

  24. Please consider posting your reading list for the “Individual Rights and the Commom Good” class. It sounds fascinating!

  25. I am infinitely relieved and thankful that you are continuing your blog. If it wasn’t for you, Heather Cox Richardson, Dan Rather and Bill Moyers I would likely have gone raving insane the last couple of years.

  26. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with your students and readers:

    “It is said that wisdom lies not in seeing things, but seeing through things.” Manly P. Hall

  27. All really good books are the sum of many good chapters. Time to turn the page on the SPEA chapter with all it’s good experiences and characters, and move into a new chapter. It has all the makings of a best seller.

  28. I hope your retirement will result in more thoughtful essays to help us understand and deal with this complex world.

  29. As a retiree, there is that wonderful feeling when you wake up at 4:30 AM and think I can sleep in late today. Every night is a Friday night and everyday is a Saturday.

  30. Better for your students to have had a chance for recovery….

    “We as a nation invest about 50 federal dollars per child in STEM education, each year. For civic education, we invest about 5 cents.”

  31. You are one of few, Sheila, our latter day de Tocqueville and outstanding contributor to the commonweal. Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Retirement. . .

  32. I agree with all these comments, especially that your blog isn’t going anywhere. You’re a bright, shining light in this crazy world. Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy retirement to the fullest!

  33. Thank for for your and thank you for your blog. Judging from the comments here, others, like myself, your writing is both enjoyable and thoughtful. And the first I read to begin the day.

  34. It’s a mark of humanity that when comfort is high it becomes expected and ordinary and people aren’t as thankful as when there are many serious discomforts and relief stands out. That’s 2020 in a nutshell.

    I don’t remember exactly when I became a virtual student here but it happened because I was teaching a climate change course in Florida and a student there recommended here. That’s when I started learning that our truancy in addressing climate change was as much political ignorance as scientific ignorance and that if I was going to make a difference I’d better strive to keep my political learning ahead of my teaching.

    Sheila may have taught me the most but the other regulars here certainly were big contributors also. I’m so thankful for all of your perspectives

    One good thing about your choice of this as your retirement year Sheila is that nobody alive today will forget 2020, ever. Congratulations on your remarkable teaching career both here and there and I’m glad to know that here will continue because it’s such a familiar and thoughtful part of every day for me.

    I’m sure that you will continue to enjoy a life well played well after 2020 starts receding into the past.

  35. Congratulations on your extraordinary career, Sheila! Thank you so much for your intellect and candor as you constantly challenge me to think in new ways and better understand so many aspects of our government, and civic engagement and responsibilities. Happy Thanksgiving!

  36. Sheila,

    It’s late in the process, but I’m pleading you you to use the form at: to let the Biden Transition Team know that you are available to serve. Your wisdom and insights and experience and energy are exactly what America needs to move quickly out of the present morass to re-emerge as the kind of country we all grew up believing in. Biden is moving in the right directions, but he needs your focus on values and civic awareness in order to make he most of the next four years. I’m not trying to disrupt your retirement plans, but to let you know that many of us believe you are uniquely qualified to find ways to bring us together. John Kerry is the Climate Envoy. He needs a companion Values Envoy to achieve his goals and to help us forget the bumpkin squad that is now packing up to leave Washington.

  37. Sheila, congratulations on your retirement from the university. I thank you for introducing me to the concept of civic literacy, which enabled me to connect the importance of science literacy to the whole. I’m glad that your blog will continue; it has always been a source of revelation to me and, although I’ve never met them, to the considered opinions and analyses of the core followers of the blog. I feel that I have gotten to know them through the blog.

    I will also say that retirement makes you free. You are no longer just a cog in the system, you are your own person, free to indulge in whatever you wish. Like you, I missed the students. Youth is the future. It’s a trip to watch your grandchildren develop their world views. And so it goes!

  38. The Sheila Kennedy blog is veritable contemporary scripture. It must continue! So good to hear that it will.

    And thank you, Sheila, for reminding us that there are intelligent people on this earth, even some lawyers. 🙂 It is getting harder to believe that these days with all the nonsense that is bombarding us every days. So much of it coming from D.C., with, perhaps, the highest concentration of lawyers per square mile in the USA.

    Happy Thanksgiving

    (and thanks to your wise spleen for venting itself for us each and every day so timely, so elegantly, and so eloquently.)

  39. Todd, that Blinken piece was quite marvelous, thank you.
    Sheila, thank you. Although I am fairly new to the blog, I find it uplifting and educating. I also hope that you will continue it.
    If your retirement means no longer working for a salary, join the club. Stay busy, which, I suspect, will be no great challenge for you, and ‘”Keep on keeping on.”

  40. Thank you for the continued civics education your blogs have provided for years.
    On this Thanksgiving Day, on my list of things for which I am grateful, you rank just behind family, included in my list of friends, although a virtual one. You have enriched my life, pushed me to keep learning, and kept me sane in an insanely chaotic year.

    Enjoy your retirement. It, too, will be a new and challenging experience. Please don’t forget us. We need your insight and thoughtful perspectives now more than ever.

  41. Todd

    I’ve read Blinken’s story, and, when he kneeled in front of that tank and said the only words he knew in English _God bless america”, and an African-American or in those days black soldier popped out of the can, what happened to that soldier? if you didn’t die in combat, was he murdered after he came back from his service in europe? Because, a lot of those soldiers were lynched when they came back!

    One of the interesting things I’ve never really understood, immigrants will come to this country, and immediately start to discriminate against people of African descent! Especially if those immigrants are not black.

    So, there’s a whole lot to fix! I think everyone realizes that, but, I doubt if it will happen.

  42. When I retired I kept asking “What’s next?” I hope that whatever comes next for you brings you joy and meaning. I hope you are able to sit and rock some for a bit but you don’t strike me as someone who will do that for hours every day.

    I am glad this blog will continue.

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