My only direct association with Jacques Barzun occurred during the years I served with him on the governing board of the Council for Basic Education. (At that time, A. Graham Down served as its president and Mary Bingham, Clifton Fadiman, Admiral Hyman Rickover, Mortimer Smith, and Potter Stewart were among its other early directors, board members, and supporters.) I have no idea how many people are aware of Mr. Barzun’s service on the CBE board but it will come as no surprise to his countless admirers that he was wholeheartedly committed to doing all he could to improve the quality of humanities education in our nation’s public schools at a time when the curricula offered by most of them offered no better than what he once characterized as “an adventure in hors d’oeuvres.” Several of the CBE’s initiatives then were in partnership with the Council of Great City Schools, an organization that has since become a coalition of 66 of the nation’s largest urban public school systems.
On this special occasion, I express my gratitude not only for all that you have done but for what you have helped so many others to do with style, grace, and enduring impact. So with all due respect to your erudition, to your invaluable contributions to higher education, I thank you for advocating the importance of rigor and substance in the education of young people and for giving your support to efforts to strengthen their reasoning, reading, and writing skills while stimulating and nourishing their intellectual curiosity. I know of few others who combine — to the extent you do — both idealism and pragmatism in a society that so often seems dysfunctional. We are encouraged, indeed blessed by your faith in what can yet be accomplished and that will be your heritage. Happy birthday!