Last week was an exciting week in education reform.
Davis Guggenheim, the Oscar-winning director of “An Inconvenient Truth,” released his latest social commentary – a poignant and controversial documentary that has become a national referendum on education in our country today.
On my campus in East Harlem, we held two amazing apprenticeship fairs in which students were able to hear from Google engineers, fashion designers, architects, community activists, lacrosse coaches, entrepreneurs and many other adults who brought their passions, professions and hobbies to bear in the classroom.
Meanwhile, Oprah Winfrey held not one but TWO specials on education that saw millions of dollars donated and millions of minds enlightened. On what might arguably be the greatest stage in daytime media, we heard time and time again that the current crisis in our schools is, indeed, the civil rights issue of our generation.
And on Sunday, there was a teacher town hall, hosted by NBC’s Brian Williams, which gave thousands of teachers throughout the country a much-needed opportunity to voice their concerns and questions. In sharing their opinions around tough issues like tenure, unions and charter schools, these frontline staff underscored just how dynamic and heterogeneous the members of our profession truly are.
In the midst of all this conversation around education reform, there was one clear theme that emerged. Namely, while education will always be about changing the life trajectories of kids, education reform is all about the investment and involvement of adults who are committed to effecting said change. The path to securing better futures for our children has and always will be predicated on the effective effort of the adults involved – the parents and families, administrators, community members, volunteers and teachers that work tirelessly to ensure that all students have the opportunity to attain an excellent education that prepares them to get to and through college. More than ever before, we need all adults within our democracy to rally behind the simple notion that an effective education system is everyone’s right and everyone’s responsibility.
I am proud to work at Citizen Schools because we have a really big idea. Rather than students taking field trips out into the community, we engage members of the community in the challenging but rewarding work of directly sharing their expertise with kids. In so doing, our model provides a proven means for making this adult-driven revolution a reality.
After last week’s apprenticeship fair, Alex Abelin, a brilliant employee at Google and one of our “Citizen Teachers” this semester stood outside and peered into the lights on the corner of 120th and Lexington. He had just done eight, 7-minute pitches to sell his apprenticeship to students and he was content but visibly exhausted. As the M101 bus hummed down Lexington, Alex leaned over to me and said, “You know – I have so much respect for what you guys do…what all educators do. I can’t imagine that teachers do this all day, every day.”
Humbled, I smiled at Alex knowing that he had officially made the transition from volunteer to change agent. With the sun setting on a way-too-humid autumn night, I replied to Alex, “Well now, you’re doing this too.”
The future of our students and the future of our nation rests in our collective hands.