Those magnificent generations of civil servants who have come before, many with those same robes, are waiting on you now. They are waiting because the generation of Americans who will deliver on that boldest promise of all will not do it at the point of a gun, they will not do it with the crack of a gavel, not with a speech from the well of the Senate, they will do it with a book on a beanbag chair with our babies. It is only there that America will finally find its greatest dream of itself, delivered by her proudest and most passionate patriots – the American teacher. The right to know, the power to act, the will to love: lead us there.

what's 'well' in the sentence above? I looked up dictionary and there aren't any definitions of 'well' as a noun that help me understand 'the well of the senate'..

And what's the meaning of the following phrase 'they will do it with a book on a beanbag chair with our babies.' ? I mean, I understand this sentence itself word by word but I don't understand the sentence in the context. Why does that baby sentence just showed up here?

  • 1
    Where does this text come from? Mar 31, 2017 at 13:43
  • 1
    @SovereignSun It's Michael Johnston's convocation speech at harvard school of education.
    – dbwlsld
    Mar 31, 2017 at 14:29
  • It seems a hard one to research for links but I heard that the term well comes from the fact that there was a literal well such that nobody could rush the judge. Could be an urban myth...
    – Joe
    Mar 31, 2017 at 16:08
  • 4
    If only there were a real well. We could toss a few senators into it.
    – TimR
    Mar 31, 2017 at 16:40

3 Answers 3


I'm going to paraphrase the sentence in the way I interpret it:

They are waiting because the generation of Americans who will deliver on that boldest promise of all will not do it by coercion through violence (at the point of a gun), they will not do it with judges in the courts (with the crack of a gavel), not by passing new laws (with a speech from the well of the Senate), they will do it by gently instilling concepts into the minds of the next generation (with a book on a beanbag chair with our babies).

The language being used is very figurative and symbolic. Books, beanbag chairs, and babies collectively evoke the picture of reading aloud in a nurturing environment – something that can be done at home and in the schools.

As for the well of the Senate, other answers have explained the meaning of that phrase. I just wanted to add that I believe this comes from the physical resemblance between looking down into the round Senate chamber from above and looking down into a physical well from a similar angle.


"The well of the senate" is the central space in it. This is an extension of meaning 10c. of well from the OED:

c. The space on the floor of a law court between the judge's bench and the places occupied by counsel.

"With a book on a beanbag chair with our babies" refers to a teacher of very young children. This is explained in the following sentence, about "the American teacher".


From context you can presume the "well of the Senate" is the place where the speakers speak. At least one source confirms this, while noting that the origin of that word meaning is unclear.

To understand the clause with the babies, look at the structure of that sentence. There is a parallel construction happening with the repeated "will not", "will not", "will not", and finally a positive "will." The sentence that follows clarifies who it is that "will do it": "the American teacher", who sits on a beanbag chair and reads books to our children. (The school-age children are sentimentally referred to as "babies" -- we can presume the author does not mean literal infants.)

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