23 MacArthur Foundation Awards Announced

The MacArthur Foundation "Genius" awards list for this year has been announced. Among those chosen is UCSD's Carol Padden, the first Deaf person so honored. Carol Padden is a leading figure in the study of sign languages, and has co-authored, with husband Tom Humphries, a number of texts which have been widely used in the teaching of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies.

Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, was also named. Recipients recieve $100, 000 a year over five years, and Ms. Gordon-Reed said her award will, in part, fund research for another book she is planning on the family of Sally Hemings, the slave woman owned by Thomas Jefferson, by whom she had several children.

Fans of The Wire and Treme will be pleased to know that writer/producer David Simon has also been awarded one of this year's MacArthur's. I have seen neither, as I don't have HBO, but I know a lot of Shakers have expressed love for Simon's widely-admired work. Twelve men and eleven women, among them thirteen scientists and ten artists, were named fellows.

Theatre actor/director David Cromer is one, as is Jessie Little Doe Baird, a preservationist of the Wopanaak language of the Wampanoag Indians of Massachusetts; Aussie Drew Berry, who works in biomedical animation; and Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics, one of whose studies was on the economic impact of outstanding kindergarten teachers (No, srsly; turns out those greedy public employees might actually be contributing to the economy, as well as the education of our children).

Oh, and Amir Abo-Shaeer, a public high school physics teacher in Goleta, CA, who directs an engineering program which includes a robotics competition. Says Abo-Shaeer,
I want to change the whole culture of what an engineer looks like and what an engineer does.
Abo-Shaeer said that he is particularly proud that half of his students are female.

The next time, in a seemingly endless series of next times, that some member of the Obama administration starts whining and finger-jabbing about the shocking lack of appreciation for their splendid array of accomplishments, I think I'll suggest they contemplate the accomplishments of the people on this list, that they might be moved to perform the important public service of STFUing and getting on with all those badly-needed works which remain undone.

Collectively — even after the awards — the MacArthur awardees have far less money and power to draw on than a group of 23 Democratic Representatives, Senators, and top administration officials. Not devoting themselves to speechifying about what they are owed, how unappreciated they are, and what they will accomplish in a magic someday over the rainbow when the Republicans have graciously given their permission, has probably saved them a lot of time and energy, though.

It's inspiring what human beings can accomplish when they commit themselves to real public service, to the honest pursuit of knowledge, and to creating solutions rather than to careerism.

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