The Daily Pulse:

The Continuing Adventures of Chris Whittle

"For the Birds," an article in the Jan. 6 New Yorker (behind the paywall, alas), catches us up with the continuing adventures of Mr. Chris Whittle, who over a period of 25 years built a publishing empire that left downtown Knoxville with an unusual two-block-long building, before much of it fizzled about, around 1994, its grandiose headquarters becoming fair game for the federal-courthouse people.  

If you'll recall, back in those halcyon days of Bush I and Vanilla Ice, Whittle, fellow UT alum Alan Greenberg, and former Yale president Benno Schmidt were working together in in that big building on Main Street to launch a revolutionary new privately run public school program called the Edison Project. Though most of Whittle magazines and television launches folded, Edison, rebranded EdisonLearning, somehow survived, and is still in business, last we heard, now based in New York, with lots of operations in lots of states other than Tennessee. Though its trajectory has disappointed some--"contracting" is how it's sometimes described"--we have to admit, Whittle's second (or is it third?) act has outlasted his detractors' predictions.

The Edison projects, by any other name, were aimed at broad America, and mostly at families who couldn't necessarily afford private school, or the computers Whittle was convinced were the key to education of the future. This latest venture, still led by the dream team of Whittle, Greenberg, and Schmidt that first started talking about reinventing education in downtown Knoxville 20 years ago, is sharply different in its approach.

The prep school, known as Avenues: The World School, is based in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, and it's not free. Tuition is $42,000 a year.

According to the article, Avenues grads will be "architects of lives that transcend the ordinary....accomplished in the academic skills one would expect; at ease beyond their borders; truly fluent in a second language; good writers and speakers one and all; confident because they excel in a particular passion; artists no matter their field; practical in the ways of the world; emotionally unafraid and physically fit; humble about their gifts and generous of spirit."

The article is not mostly about the ever-amazing Mr. Whittle, but mostly about one of Avenues' most accomplished students, Wyatt Wren Christianson, whose World-School project is raising chickens in a coop on the roof. The poultry prodigy sometimes prefers to sign his name Wyatt Wren Chickenson.


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