I just spent an hour and half watching the Tribute to Aaron Schwartz at the Internet Archive, Part I. The event was a gathering of people who wanted to pay tribute to Aaron’s life, to remember him, and to tell personal stories about how he impacted and shaped their lives. (see #pdftribute for more) If you are interested in learning about the work of activists who devote their lives to protecting the public domain, you should watch this video. Aaron Schwartz is referenced as a “soldier in an army of activists” who are everyday citizens interested in being sure we truly live in a democracy. It is so interesting to learn what happens when people (prosecutors) abuse their power and go after people like Aaron. Watch the video to learn more.
I was drawn into this because I knew Aaron Schwartz. When I was the Upper School Division Director at North Shore Country Day School, Aaron was an incoming freshman. I met with him on many occasions to discuss his challenges with being a student in a traditional school setting. He was restless and eager to do creative and interesting things. He felt that the demands of school tied his hands. From inside, he attempted to change things in such a way that he could stay involved in the community, but traditional schools are not easy to change or adapt to the needs of students like Aaron Schwartz. I recall many meeting with his father and mother, Robert and Susan. They wanted to partner with the school to find a way to keep Aaron connected, but in the end Aaron needed to follow his own path.
Aaron was a brilliant young man. I remember visits to my office, he would come with his own reading list and then ask for my recommendations. His wasn’t an ordinary reading list. John Dewey and Paulo Freire made his list. He wasn’t a casual reader. No, Aaron wanted to learn about the roots of different educational movements. He was interested in soaking up all he could learn about a topic. I found his approach to be more like a research scientist, methodical and disciplined. I admired him and wanted him to stay at North Shore, but ultimately he had to let go of traditional school. It was our lost at the time.
Of course, he went on to lead a rich and complex life that connected him with people all over the world. He played a key role in leading the efforts to make the internet an open source environment where knowledge was available to everyone. It is worth watching this piece and getting to know more about the man, Aaron Schwartz. “Aaron’s death should radicalize us,” the words of his girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, ring in my ears as I reflect on what I learned about Aaron’s life from this tribute. Fascinating!