September 23, 2011 at 12:05 pm , by Sonia Harmon
Among the many hot button issues in our country, there’s one we should all be able to agree on: the importance of a great education. This weekend, NBC is starting a conversation on this topic in a major way with its Education Nation Summit, which kicks off Sunday at noon (EST) with the second-annual Teacher Town Hall on MSNBC. The live broadcast will be a discussion for and about teachers, and the challenges they face today. We talked to NBC news anchor Brian Williams, who will moderate the discussion, about this special initiative.
Ladies’ Home Journal: Tell us about NBC’s Education Nation project.
Brian Williams: When we do pieces on education on my broadcast nightly news, we always label them part of our Education Nation campaign. It’s just an enormous commitment by the network to say, “Look, we’re allowed to have issues that are important to us. We just don’t take a stand, but we’d like to be the conduit.” One thing we do that has become quite popular is the Teacher Town Hall. We literally have a tent on the skating rink at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and it’s just like being in the teacher’s lounge. Growing up as a kid, didn’t you always wonder what went on in there? So we let them blow off steam. It’s not a political debate, it’s not a NASCAR race—but it’s as exciting as gatherings go. It just happens to be about education.
What are some education issues you think people need to be more aware of?
Well, I just think people need to dive into the reform effort. Parents need to dial in, folks whose kids are grown and out of school who have time to volunteer and help out, they need to dial in, rich folks who have money to give. That’s the lesson I’ve learned, that when you stop going to PTA meetings and when your kids grow up and out, your obligation to education doesn’t end. In many ways it’s just beginning. You still have a lot to give.
Do you remember a teacher that really affected you as a kid?
Yes, his name is Bob Kitson and he was my junior year English teacher in high school. I was not a good student—I’m a college dropout. And while I didn’t do well after I left his clutches, for the time I was under his influence we read books above grade-level that are still with me today. I’m 52 years old and I have my junior year English textbook from high school because it has the lecture notes of Bob Kitson in the margins. He got me thinking and I probably wouldn’t be in my job today or had a sense that as a scruffy kid from the Jersey shore who went on to community college locally because I had no other option, that I could keep pushing for an outlandish job beyond my skill level.
How did your education influence your career choices?
Well, I have succeeded professionally despite my education. My parents could not pay for my education so I’ve worked since I was 14. It wasn’t a burden; it was the only life I knew. I felt that education, in my case, because I was paying for every college credit, should be applied toward my life and work. I had to go out and make a living, but I studied a lot of journalism and I realized early on how to conduct an interview and how to keep any opinions out of your work. So, as the proud owner of eighteen college credits, when I give commencement speeches I say right off the bat: “You are today, luckier than I was. You have today achieved something that I was unable to.”