Jeb! in the Forum


Annual Edwin L. Godkin Lecture at HKS.


On Thursday, September 29, the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Institute of Politics hosted Jeb Bush for the Harvard Kennedy School’s annual Edwin L. Godkin lecture. Governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007 and one of this cycle’s numerous candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, Jeb(!) left a positive impression on most of those in attendance.

A visiting fellow in the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, Bush has distinguished himself as a leader in the realm of education policy. He is also a guest instructor and presenter in an HKS course titled “The Political Economy of the School,” where he will share his knowledge and experience with students. As he noted in his address, Florida’s education system rose in rank from near the bottom to sixth in the nation during Bush’s governorship, having implemented a school grading accountability system and increased school choice for parents.

The lecture began with a brief introduction before Jeb took the stage, speaking about a range of topics from education policy to American culture as a whole. He focused on using a “bottom-up” approach that empowers parents to make choices regarding their children’s education, rather than a “top-down” approach in which the federal government makes blanket decisions for all. This personalized approach to education, he said, is one of the keys to increasing economic and social mobility in America by empowering individuals, rather than institutions. He also stressed the importance of changing American culture, something that cannot be done through legislation. In what seemed like a reference to this election cycle, he said “The idea that you’re weak if you’re warmhearted…is bad for our democracy.”

The event continued as co-moderators Paul E. Peterson, a professor of Government and the Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance, and Roland Fryer, an Economics professor and the faculty director of the Education Innovation Laboratory, took the stage with Jeb. Each asked important and probing questions about the education policies he touted in Florida during his time as governor, comparing them to Massachusetts policies and discussing academic findings as they related to the Florida plans.

Finally, the floor opened up for questions from the audience. People asked questions about a variety of topics, including his education policies, his party, and national unity. One student noted Donald Trump’s claims that his loss would mean that the election is rigged, asking how the country could heal if his supporters end up believing these claims. Jeb noted that while we seem to be in dark times now, it is optimism that will move our nation forward.

The final question of the night came from a student at the Kennedy School, who noted the relative lack of conservative voices in the HKS faculty and inquired if Jeb would be willing to accept a more permanent faculty position in the future. He left the question with an unclear response – quickly saying no, and then telling the audience that he did not want to deprive “the people” their opportunity to make “the announcement” of what he will be doing next. We’re all waiting with open ears, Jeb.

Note: Jeb! will be speaking again this Thursday in an event co-hosted by Conversations with Kirkland and David Kochel’s IOP study group.

Emily Hall ( hopes that Jeb’s optimism will inspire more people in future years.