Joy of joining in games theme of Lerner’s interactive CWC talk

Deborah Trefts
Staff Writer

Friendly, engaging and — most of all — playful audience interaction is the focus of the first two weeks of the Women’s Club’s 2023 “Chautauqua Speaks” series.

Yes, Phyllis K. Lerner, will be speaking during her presentation, “Games for Grown-Ups” at 2:30 p.m. today at the Women’s Club house, but she also plans to get people moving too.

“I’m wearing tennis shoes,” she said, teasing what’s in store. “There will be about 10 pickleballs involved in the CWC program. We will have music, and I’m bringing my speaker.”

She said she wants adults to consider why games have just one winner and everyone else loses while looking at the theory behind them — with a bit of an edge.

“None of this is R-rated, but I don’t want people bringing their (young) kids,” she said. “… My task is raising some of their curiosity.”

Although theory about games and play will not be explored in depth, professionally Lerner is a go-to person of national and international acclaim for turning educational theory into effective action. 

In elementary school, she was the person most kids wanted to be: the one usually chosen first for kickball. Until the Little League baseball season began, she played alongside the boys. Throughout middle and high school, she continued to excel in sports.

When she graduated high school in 1967, Lerner received the award for “Outstanding Girl Athlete,” given a plastic box with a pin inside, as she wrote in a recent blog post about Title IX for the Mid-Atlantic Equity Center. She noticed, however, that the boy who got the comparable award instead received a full college athletic scholarship, a big trophy and a Rotary Club check. 

“It was the first time I said to myself, ‘That’s not fair,’ ” she recalled.

Eventually – fifty years later – she received a high school letter. She was also admitted to her high school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

Athletics meant so much to Lerner that she majored in physical education and dance at Springfield College in Massachusetts. At its 50th Anniversary of Women and Sport, she received Springfield’s Distinguished Alumnae Award.

Even more remarkable, however, is Lerner’s subsequent academic and professional path in educational equity – including race, gender, and language.

In California, she earned her Master of Arts in Education, specializing in comparative and international curriculum and instruction at Chapman University. She also completed the Advanced Studies Program at Claremont Graduate School and earned the administrative services credential at Azusa Pacific University.

In eight countries hosting Children’s International Summer Villages, Lerner served as delegation leader and seminar camp director.

And for decades, she worked in various positions within and far beyond California on gender equity, including for the California Department of Education’s Title IX Office.

Currently, she teaches at Johns Hopkins University’s Graduate School of Education and at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda.

“I am a teacher of teachers,” Lerner said. “In theory, there’s equity. But the girls’ drop-out rates are far greater than the boys.”

So, she assists district, regional and other educational and social justice agencies in the design, coordination and performance of staff development and outreach programs in more than 45 U.S. states and abroad.

Lerner also provides training and technical assistance on instruction and diversity issues to administrators, teachers, school boards, paraprofessionals, school/community personnel and families.

 In addition, she develops and implements strategies for advancing inclusive and effective education.

“You can’t just make it inclusive, but inviting and inclusive,” Lerner said.


The author Deborah Trefts

Deborah Trefts is a policy scientist with extensive United States, Canadian and additional international experience in conservation. She focuses on the resolution of ocean and freshwater-related challenges and the art and science of deciphering and developing public policy at all levels from global to local.