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Summary: Re-Education Talk

On March 25th The FEED hosted Re-Education: Building a Cross-Sector Educational Revolution, an open forum on the state of education and ideas on how it can be made better.  Thank you to everyone who attended. Our participants included someone who runs after school programs, a farm to school advocate currently running for a school board seat, a doctor and professor of medicine, a representative from the Mayor’s office, a school principal and the director of student mentoring programs. This was a great group to tackle ideas on our education system.

Some of our key discussion points were:

  • The nature and needs of education have changed much since our system was created. Students need to be instilled with the want and the drive to explore their world in order to be successful in it.
  • The traditions of education as a community endeavor have fallen away. We need to rally communities to see their K-12 schools as anchors for both a vibrant community and economy.
  • Our system has some deep-rooted issues and to fix them we might need a big leap of faith. There is no guarantee of success in a new system, and that is a scary thought.

Our discussion started with the reason behind our current education system. Could it be that our original system served as a form of daycare, covering basic subjects to create informed citizens while keeping them occupied during the parent’s work day? And what is the role today? The group expressed concern that education as a system should be a mechanism to both create global competition and collaboration, moving society forward. Education needs to cover basics but also instill a want for exploration and exposure into young minds. Learning is just as much about the process as it is the outcome and our learning systems should inspire kids to want to learn, explore and innovate. Additionally, in years past technology has been a side item, something used as a tool. Now technology should be integrated and in fact a basic tenant of modern education. It can keep kids excited but also holds the key to their future. Without changing they system we could lose out to competing nations. Could the US become a third-world country?


So if the old-style system of education doesn’t work what lessons can we take and how can we move on to the future? One thing that historically has gone right is the community aspect of education. Local money and local resources should go toward local kids. This doesn’t mean that local schools can’t get resources from other places, but it does mean that communities should look at schools as an anchor and a long-term investment. And this isn’t just about the money. All members of a community are stakeholders in education. Elders and business owners can offer mentorships and apprenticeships, passing down values and trades. Education is about inspiration and everyone in the community has their part to play. Inspiring our kids keeps our communities vibrant and keeps kids moving forward and out of trouble, and that is something everyone can get behind. But today’s societies are more mobile than those of the past. If a community declines those with means can easily move away instead of entrenching themselves to invest in its renewal. How do we bring back the sense of long-lasting local community in our globally-connected highly mobile society?


The area of our discussion with the least consensus was what our schools and the system encapsulating them should look like. It seems that it is easy to define what we want our kids to get out of the system but much harder to define the structure and impact measurements we want to move that ultimate outcome. The discussion looked at the competing yet similar nature of measurement programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. We discussed the alarming amount of money spent on our education system yet the terrifying fact that it is still behind many nations. The difficult reality that people learn in different ways and at different paces yet to create a cohesive education system we may not be able to accommodate everyone. Both private and public school have tried innovative measures that should be reviewed and combined to meet as many needs as possible.


Other sectors have innovated through continued trial and error. In technology, scientific study and even the social good sector experiment to find new answers to pressing problems. Education is a pressing problem yet are we willing to take on experimentation? Especially when experimentation can often lead to failure (but we hope that it leads to positive innovation) are we willing to risk some of our children’s future to save the system as a whole? In some ways the group thought this has already happened. Because our system is not meeting the needs of many student we have created a lost generation with little to no respect for school. We fight against this feeling with soft skill development and social service programs but is this enough to kickstart our current system and get people excited about it again? Consensus seemed to indicate that it isn’t. In fact the group pointed to communities like New Orleans and Detroit as places where catastrophic changes have resulted in new education structures.


Aside from a catastrophe to re-start our education engine the group sought influence from colleges which run their education systems like a business. They innovate quickly, drop programs that do not produce well (even if that move is unpopular) and serve as an economic boon for their communities. So why aren’t K-12 schools approached in this manner? Can neighborhood schools be viewed as key economic pieces of their communities and can this view help us re-capture community investment in them?


In closing our group was excited yet a little exasperated by the challenges faced by our education system. There is much space for innovation yet a lot of room for failure and that is something our communities and our children cannot afford to misjudge.