Recently I had dinner with my older brother. He is a smart, interesting guy but we have never seen eye to eye, on business, politics, or life’s big questions. Almost eight years ago, after leaving the coal industry, he became the CFO for a charter school company and hence entered the ‘business of education’ which brought a new dynamic to family get-togethers. He is a successful business man, a self described “mercenary” at fixing broken companies, so now his attention is turned to fixing the education system. ”It’s broken,” he told me at dinner, “and I’m willing to take a large cut in pay to give back my expertise to fix it.” For the next several hours, we talked, we argued, and I listened. Needless to say we disagreed, a lot. But what struck me was his idea that my years and experience in the classroom meant nothing, that his business experience meant everything. It also struck me that he viewed the process of educational reform as a top-down management structure and that the “product”, or students, were cogs in the wheel rather than independent, operating, thinking beings. I tried to point out in our discussion, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to successfully nourish their minds, we must first make sure that their bodies are nourished and protected. The business of teaching is not an assembly line of products moving through the stations of manufacture. It is flexible, persistent, evolving. As our culture shifts, our students change. As our students change, our instructional strategies must also alter. Does the business model emulate and can they respond to this kaleidoscopic landscape? It’s possible but I believe it will take a different, non-traditional approach.
In an earlier post, I challenged the concept of charter schools as a solution, although I do respect the work of some, Harlem Children’s Zone being one. They have a different approach. They are investing in their children and their community. They recognize the importance of breaking the cycle of poverty for children to be successful and they look at all the variables in a child’s life offering parenting, nutrition, dental, and health programs alongside their commitment to education. We need the local, state, and federal government to take note. We need the business leaders to recognize that a model of this nature is expensive but it is an investment. Instead of looking to place blame, finger pointing at educators, parents, or communities; let’s look for solutions. Let’s create a dialogue that will benefit our children, our communities, and ultimately our country. If we want to ‘fix’ the educational dilemma facing our nation, we must first fix our broken lines of communication and welcome each other to the table, respecting the vast and different experiences we all bring to the creation of common solutions.