Education – Key To Our Future

Growing up in the South Bronx in a single parent home I was consistently reminded that school was my future. My dad would ask me everyday before bedtime, “What did you learn today?” He would constantly remind me that he was too poor to leave me anything. Therefore, school was my ticket to improve my life. He would continue and say to me that if I did not learn something then it was a wasted day and that days were too precious to waste.

I was fortunate to graduate from high school and go on to post education because I had the support of a village. There were after school programs allowing a kid who did not have much to go home to an alternative from hanging in the streets. It was not that I attended everyday, but the times that I needed to go somewhere rather than run with the local “boys in the hood” I had a safe place to go and always and learn something. In addition, there were programs like United Bronx Parents and women like Dr. Evelina Antonetti, an education advocate who forced the schools to be more inclusive to our community and who took the time to council young restless kids like myself and also offer us alternatives to being in the streets.

These programs were a major contributor to me staying in school and becoming one of the positive statistics, rather than part of the majority who were dropping out at an alarming rate. I continued in education after graduating from college and became an intermediate Social Studies and Special Education teacher. I later became the Educational Director of the South Bronx Job Corps program. As such, I have a strong back round in working with youth and it is because of my experience that I share the vision that my good friend, Dr. Mark Naison, Director of the Urban Studies Program at Fordham University has on education. I borrowed much of his piece on “A Vision for Revitalizing Public Education” to also share with all my supporters and future constituents.

The following is what I would like to see happening in education in our communities.

Schools should be centers of community revitalization where young people’s curiosity and creativity is nurtured, where student differences are recognized and respected, where the physical and emotional health of children is promoted, where teachers have long careers, and where parents and community members are welcome.

You begin with creating a child-friendly environment. That means sharply reducing the number of tests, leaving ample room for exercise and play, giving primacy to the arts, and having instructions in subject areas, when possible, incorporate hands-on learning and project based activity.

We should have as many schools as possible grow and prepare food (with indoor and outdoor farms) and link that to science instruction. We have numerous community gardens already growing in areas that were once empty lots. We should have students participate in these and other community improvement initiatives. We should have students use computers they can carry with them rather than forcing them to use them at desks and become involved in mentoring younger students.

As much as possible, learning should be cooperative rather than competitive and extend that to the teaching staff – a process that would mean removing the threat of school closings and having evaluation done by peers using multiple measures rather than consultants deriving their data from student test scores.

We also need to see an end to the “one path fits all” approach to secondary education and revive the vocational and technical schools once a fixture in our educational mix to prepare students for decent paying jobs in traditional trades such as repair of automobiles and appliances, learning electrical, or carpentry trades as well as emerging areas like solar and wind energy and environmental friendly agriculture. Here, we can learn a great deal from how Germany and other Northern European countries do this.

Additionally, we need to create a climate where talented people enter teaching as a lifetime career, which involves treating teachers with respect, giving them input into all decisions affecting their professional lives, including those made at the city, state and national level, and an end to attacks on their collective bargaining rights.

And in communities which suffer the effects of poverty, we should turn schools into community centers that are open after the regular school day which serve neighborhood residents as well as students, and train residents of those communities to run programs in the schools, whether they be after school sports, arts and computer programs, school based farms or community improvement initiatives. I would recommend that the teaching staff for those schools be recruited from people who live in those communities, or communities like them and incorporate the culture and history of the people in those neighborhoods into school curricula.

Right now, the basic thrust of Education Policy is making teachers hate teaching, students dread going to school, and parents fear that the love of learning in their children will be snuffed out by excessive testing.

We can do better, but only if our basic goal is to make schools places where young people are inspired and nurtured, and where teaching is treated as a lifetime calling that allows talented people the opportunity to work collaboratively and creatively.