Jonathan King: (Lisa Guisbond)

I’ve had the great good fortune to work with Jonathan in many contexts, beginning with the anti-MCAS movement in the late 1990s, when I first experienced the way he combined his passionate commitment to justice with his vast knowledge, vision and energy to great effect.

Over the years, I collaborated with Jonathan as a fellow public school parent activist, a fellow board member of Citizens for Public Schools, as an employee (with health care benefits! Yay!) of his brainchild, the Science of the Eye program, housed in his MIT lab, and much more.

He has been a powerful, multifaceted role model (reminding me in some ways of my father), demonstrating what can be accomplished with persistence and a clear-eyed confidence in the rightness of the movements for peace and social justice as well as a generosity of spirit that makes you eager to take part in whatever he is cooking up.

Getting to know the grad students in Jonathan’s lab was a side benefit, because Jonathan inevitably brought on board exceptional people who combined great intellect and focus with warmth and good humor. And then there’s the fabulous King family – Jackie, Aaron and Andrew – the latter following in Jonathan’s footsteps as a Citizens for Public Schools board member.

One of my favorite Jonathan memories is his powerful illustration of the damage done by standardized testing. He observed (and testified to the MA state legislature) that even many “elite” undergrads at MIT had been schooled by high-stakes testing to believe that education is all about finding the right answer. When asked to look through a microscope and describe their observations, many would ask, “What am I supposed to see?” Jonathan would respond “What DO you see?” He explained that science is about observation and discovery, not choosing “the right answer” from a multiple choice list.

Jonathan epitomizes for me the optimism described by the late, great Howard Zinn: “. . . it’s clear that the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience.”

Happy birthday to you, dear Jonathan. May we all have the pleasure of basking in your brilliance for many years to come!