For most of America’s 56 million school age youth, late August and early September are times of great excitement and anticipation. Sure, summer break is over, and that’s a drag, but most kids begin school excited to see their friends and with the belief that ‘this year will be the best ever.’
We’re feeling something akin to that at Learning Matters. We’ve “started over” in our new office space, a large loft on the top floor–with high ceilings and a skylight–on West 26th Street in Manhattan. We’ve closed the books on our 3-year coverage of New Orleans and Washington, DC, and are eager to dig into new stories, including a lovely piece about a college that graduates close to 75% of its low income and minority students and a look at one state that said “No Thanks” to the Administration’s “Race to the Top” competition. We also have our sights set on two documentaries for broadcast and a ‘reality series’ that will run on the web.
How long will the excitement last, for the kids in school and for us at Learning Matters? Let’s hope that past is not prologue this time around, because in most schools kids are quickly (if unofficially) labeled and categorized. The excitement fades when many learn that the system sees them as a ‘C’ or maybe a ‘C-’ kind of kid, and that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In short, T.S. Eliot had it wrong about April being the cruelest month–it’s September, for many students. I write about this in my new book, Below C Level, and suggest some ways to beat that system.
I hope that enthusiasm remains high at Learning Matters. Certainly there’s no shortage of stories for us to cover. We want to call attention to out-of-school learning, and to schools that recognize that, even though young people are in a building, they can ‘surf’ the world and work with other young people all over the globe. As I see it, two of the three reasons for the existence of schools are no longer supportable. We used to go to school because that’s where the knowledge was, but now knowledge and information are available 24/7. We used to go to school to be socialized, but today there are multiple Apps for that. The third purpose–custodial care–is no longer strong enough to stand alone, as 6000 kids prove every school day by dropping out.
So this is the challenge that schools face: they must redefine themselves and demonstrate their value. We want to spotlight schools that are doing it–places like High Tech High in San Diego–if only to show others what is possible.
We hope you’ll come along for the ride.