Many of you have heard the sad news that Andrew Coulson passed away over the weekend. I thought I would share some personal memories.
I first remember meeting Andrew and his wife, Kay, at a conference in Toronto in 2000. I have to admit that he felt out of place. Here was this guy without any university, think tank, or other affiliation and without any formal training presenting on the history of markets in education. And people did not typically attend these meetings with spouses. Who was this guy?
As it turns out, this guy was a brilliant autodidact who “retired” after being an early programmer with Microsoft to devote his time to studying and advocating education reform. And he was really good at it.
The thing that struck me most about Andrew was his incredible optimism and quirky sense of humor. Liberty-oriented education activists tend to be on the losing side of policy battles. It can be downright discouraging. But Andrew never seemed discouraged or became bitter. It was a long game and he maintained a sunny optimism that freedom worked better and people would eventually gravitate towards what worked.
He didn’t mind standing apart from the crowd. Just because donors, policymakers, and other scholars were drawn to test-based accountability didn’t make Andrew feel like he had to join them. He even expressed serious reservations about certain methods of expanding school choice, including charters and vouchers, that he thought would invite excessive government regulation. I confess that I paid little attention to Andrew’s warnings back then but I wish I had. The experience and wisdom he obtained from studying history made him more sensitive to these dangers than my narrow practice of social science. The autodidact had quite a lot to teach highly trained people like me. As it turned out, choice reforms less prone to excessive regulation, like tax credit funded scholarships and ESAs, are now spreading rapidly — just as Andrew had expected and advised.
His humor often seemed to involve plays on words. For example I once posted to Facebook a photo of what I (incorrectly) captioned as a “Golden Lion Tamarind.” He made some sort of joke about how the dish was prepared. Some people of faith find small typos and errors in language interesting because they think they can be unintentionally prophetic. I don’t know if that was Andrew’s motivation but the thought of me secretly wishing to eat a small monkey is pretty funny.
I will miss that quirky humor, but more importantly I will miss his wise counsel and good cheer. It’s a long game that must go on but something will be missing without Andrew as part of it.