“All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words:
freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.”
The last of these is certainly not the least. As we move closer and closer to the opening of this school, I am starting to believe more and more that success in this world is limited only by the absence of hope, not the absence of wisdom.
For the past two years we have been working very hard to dissect the intricacies of urban education. We’ve done the due diligence. We’ve read the “must reads”. We’ve participated in the education echo-chamber and we’ve “drilled down”, “data-drove”, “researched-based” ourselves until there was no other jargon left to use. And at the end of the day, I believe now more than ever, that it is all about hope.
The facts are often quoted. As our kids get older, their performance when compared to their international counterparts declines. In 5 years, 50% of teachers leave the profession. The District of Columbia spends more per student then any other district in the country yet finds itself at the bottom of the achievement lists. 28% of college freshmen must take remedial courses. It goes on and on and on…
Yet all across America there are examples of it working. In every state a story of excellence can be identified and celebrated. These random acts of greatest produce our poets, our Nobel prize winners, our doctors, and our leaders. The problem exists when we turn our focus to consistency.
Jeffrey Sachs, a noted economist at Columbia University and the founder of the Earth Institute decided to turn his head away, for a moment, from consistency and mass scale and decided to take on his cause one village at a time. His theory has led to the Millennium Villages Project. Focused on eradicating hunger in Africa… a simple goal… the Millennium Villages Project operates under the assumption that by providing limited, holistic packages of basic services, local communities can climb out of extreme poverty and create economic growth. He did not listen to the scores of experts that proclaimed systemic corruption will forever hold Africa in the hands of hunger. He, instead, said that for $110 per person, we can rid a community of hunger, disease, and lack of access to safe water and sanitation. And through the use of scientific proven interventions, a village can bring themselves out of poverty. His plan… one village at a time. His fuel… hope.
I’m starting to believe that we can learn a great deal from the Millennium Villages Project.
Two weeks ago we held the School of the Future Curriculum Summit. We brought together folks from the community, higher education, the School District of Philadelphia, students and education leaders. We asked them to set aside experiences that would limit their inclination to dream or their creativity. We asked them to envision what should be, not why it can’t be so. We asked them to create a blueprint of what the school day, curriculum, professional development, community partnerships should look like. We asked them to identify strategies that would allow us to turn these ideas into practice.
For two days, 35 people, with every reason to be cynical and negative, worked hard to create ideas that would support the students, teachers and community members in West Philadelphia. Despite initial reservations, when brought together, they had hope. It fueled their creativity and inspired their thoughts. And it is because of this that I am starting to believe this school is going to demonstrate something that we can all achieve.
I know people are going to read this and roll their eyes. I know when we go back to our offices the bureaucracies waiting for us will immediately slow our progress. I know money matters and politics rule. However I also know these are things we created and therefore they are things that we control.
Hope is an amazing ingredient. It calls us to do more than we think we can do. It calls us to believe in things for which there is no logical supporting evidence. It causes us to build “Schools of the Future” and believe that others will follow.
I don’t know how many people will read this, but for those that do, be the one… Be the one that knocks on the door and says we can do this. It may happen one classroom at a time, one school at a time… but don’t despair. Be the one who starts rather than stops. Be the one that brings hope.