Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nobel Son (and Daughter)

Much has been made of the recent honor afforded President Obama by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. Objections have come from a number of places with complaints of "too soon," "he hasn't done anything yet," or "he is leading two wars, how can he be honored for peace?" The far right have shown their dexterity, if not their consistency, by following their celebrations of the loss of the Olympics by Chicago, which they claimed showed Obama's weakness in the world, with thier dismay that the world has now honored the President with the greatest international prize given. I have to admit I have enjoyed watching the talk shows hosts' heads explode as they process this. We have seen conservatives cheer when America loses and scream when it whens. Strange times we ar living in.

And that is the point. The Nobel committee said they gave the prize for the good work that Obama had started and for his setting a new tone. Some have suggested, quite accurately, that a lot of this has to do with the fact he isn't George W. Bush. The realty is that the world became accustomed to a United States that had a "my way or the highway' attitude and if you weren't with us, you were against us. This dualistic view of history created division and distress around the globe. President Obama has acted as the "anti Bush" by offering a collaborative and inclusive vision for the rest of the world.

I was in Cusco Peru the night of the election and it was interesting to see the celebrations in the street, the smile on waiters faces and the children in classrooms the next day yelling "Obama, Obama." It was an election the world followed closely and celebrated mightily. No wonder then that the Nobel committee honored Obama--and for that all American's should be grateful--for it was a prize given to all of us. Conservative columists George Will, just a few days before the announcment, intoned, as only he can, that around the world Obama is adored and ignored. Well,not so fast with that ignoring assumption George.

In the provocative book "The Age of the Unthinkable" author Joshua Ramo posits that the rules of how the world works have changed dramatically in the recent past and that to cope with this requires greater flexibilty and openness to alternative ways of seeing the world. It seems to me that the selection of Obama as the peace prize winner is a perfect example of how the old ways of measuring success must be altered. If the most powerful nation on earth does not have a leader that is capable of being open and inclusive, then there may not be a world left where life time acheivement awards can be given.

But there was other Nobel news beyond the Obama selection and the fact that most of the winners in the other categories were American. The one that was most interesting to me was the selection of Elin Ostrom as the first female economics laureate. I was taken, not so much with her breaking the glass ceiling, but for what she was honored for.

Her work was recognized because she had shown that local communities were more effective at using their resources in a common collaboration than if the government had controlled the resources or if they had been privitized. This has great implications for public education. The history of public education has been a community based system of local control. Of late the model has shifted to a state and federally run control system with great pressure being applied to expand the issue of privitization into schools. While you don't have to be a Nobel Prize winner to understand that may not be a good idea, it is great to have one prove so. Thank you Laureate Ostrom and thank you Barack Obama for proving that little things mean a lot in the larger world.