Throughout his interview with Atlantic Editor-in-Chief James Bennet, Brown proved that he spins a pretty erudite game. A question about California’s once and future budget woes, for example, transformed into a Latin lesson. The two had been discussing the California government’s decision to raise taxes on the wealthy. "The debate around cuts and taxes nationally in Washington is utterly frozen. What message would you send to those people? Or is California just sui generis?" Bennet asked.
"I’m glad you started using Latin," Brown replied. "Sui generis means 'of its own kind.' As in 'genitive.' Anyway…"
"What’s the 'sui' part?" Bennet challenged.
"'Of its own.' It’s a pronoun," Brown shot back. "It's characterizing 'kind'—but that's a whole other story."
As Bennet may have known, Brown has an undergraduate degree in classics.
Brown went on to discuss various budget battles fought in California, including cuts to university funding, increases in taxes on the wealthy, and investments like the long-suffering high-speed railway that's planned between San Francisco to Los Angeles. His most captivating comments were about the future of education in his state, because he described how his views grew out of his personal experience—in training to become a priest.
His religious schooling seemed to make Brown a big fan of "traditional" educational experiences. "Human contact is very important. I went to Jesuit schools: Santa Clara for a year, St. Ignatius for four years. And I went into the Jesuit order, not because of reading a book, but because of the experience, the relationship with all the different teachers I encountered. Something that I’d always heard about in Jesuit schools is the ratio studiorum, which is the methodology of Jesuit education," he said.
At an event full of conversations about MOOCs and the technical skills gap in STEM fields, it was almost jarring to hear a reference to a humanities-heavy, Catholic educational philosophy forged in 1599—fitting, perhaps, only for a one-time Jesuit novice. But just as Brown eventually left the order and went to Berkeley to finish his degree, so has he shifted his views on what kinds of educational investments California will be making in the coming years.
"There is so much available knowledge on the Internet that it has to play a much larger role in our education," he said. "I think there’s a big, big future for the large classes, the use of the Internet, and it should lower the cost of education, resulting in curbing tuition."