About the Project

The Mike Kirst Biography Project

“Of all the species of literary composition, perhaps biography is the most delightful. The attention concentrated on one individual gives a unity to the materials ... which is wanting in general history.”

Robert Hall (1764-1831 English writer and social reformer)

Non-fiction writers and historians have long known that history becomes more accessible to a wider audience when it is told through compelling biographies of key figures.

The purpose of this biography project is to make a fascinating man’s life and accomplishments come alive.

Mike KirstDr. Michael W. Kirst is professor emeritus at Stanford University and just-retired President of the California State Board of Education. (“Mike” going forward in this précis.)

While recognized in influential academic and policy circles, Mike is generally unknown to those most actively engaged in American education in the trenches of the nation’s classrooms and local boardrooms, including teachers, principals, and school district leaders. And, while some in the academic and policy circles might know about Mike, few if any are fully aware of his fifty-plus-year trajectory and evolution, including serving as trusted confidant for Governor Jerry Brown; two stints as a California’s State Board of Education President, 30 years apart, in a state educating one out every nine American students as well as path-breaking policy work nationally, in several states across the county, and internationally.

This project offers lessons for policymakers and educators on ways to advance education reforms going forward.

To reach the audience most actively engaged in American schooling "on-the-ground" (past, current, and prospective), I want to produce a lively biographical portrait of an effective educational reformer and respected academic that is not only well researched, but also available in several engaging formats, including written, oral, and visual media.

A set of “conversations” with and about Mike will bring to life and illustrate the how’s and why’s of what has changed in American education during the past fifty years and what has not. As American director and writer Orson Welles points out, “There's no biography so interesting as the one in which the biographer is present”—hence the choice of “conversations” with well-chosen individuals who can make Mike’s life and influence come alive.

To hear about and from, to understand, and to enjoy Mike in action will not only celebrate the life of a great man but offers lessons for policymakers and educators about ways to advance education reforms going forward.