Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Emerging Minds Project
February 2011
The purpose of the Emerging Minds Project (EMP) is to create an intellectually open and dynamic environment for students to learn about and discuss social justice issues of today. Each month, a group of 11 students come together at 5710 to dialogue with an experienced facilitator who works in the field.

This blog is an outlet for each of our members' voices. While this is a collection of their personal thoughts, we hope to display a glimpse of the multifaceted ways that each topic impacts the individual members of the EMP cohort.

*The views and opinions expressed in these blog entries are that of each individual author and do not necessarily reflect a collective opinion of the EMP cohort or that of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

By: Grace Evans

Education is a popular word these days, pronounced so often I think we’ve nearly forgotten what it means. At the very least, we have ignored the fact that some parts of this word might need defining. Allow me to attempt this task.

Some will argue that for decades, the purpose of the American educational system served to produce effective workers, cogs in the wheel of capitalism. An element of this is still true: we educate children so that they will one day become the engineers, politicians, architects and business owners we need to keep our economy growing. Aside from building workers capable of generating economic surplus, education also reduces social expenditures as children grow: educated people are less likely to go to prison, draw welfare or unemployment payments, or qualify for food stamps. Educating our children, then, saves us money and maintains our economic stability.

Note: I do not think that framing children as economic inputs captures the full scope of the issue. We also educate people to maintain our democracy, whose equity and effectiveness rely on an educated, informed, politically engaged populous. But the economic frame is a pragmatic one, which appeals to powerful people, so I’m trying to get accustomed to using it.

Talking with Charles Payne reminds me that the problems of this country’s worst schools are thoroughly entrenched, and will require holistic solutions. Education is never about one particular reading program, or one method of certification, or one system of accountability. School success hinges on equitable resources, quality curricula, teacher accountability, parent involvement, mentoring between students and teachers, after-school programs, excellent leadership, and much more. Activists who think that any one measure solves the entire problem miss the forest for the trees.

In addition, one thing I know about schools is that people matter. We (if we are policymakers and non-teachers in state capitols) cannot build a system that makes sense and then expect it to simply work. Building a rational system with adequate funds and robust checks and balances would be a great start, of course, but it would fail without careful consideration of the individuals who comprise schools. We need to train principals to be dynamic, empathetic instructional leaders, capable of mentoring and advising teachers. We need to train teachers to assess their own performance and adapt their teaching based on student progress. We need to train parents to understand what good teaching looks like and how to expect it from their child’s teacher without badgering that teacher into a defensive scramble (as many middle- and upper-class parents do). Furthermore, we need to give all of these groups the resources and skills to form trusting, collaborative relationships, so that each group can support each other and hold each other informally accountable as we all try to ensure the best outcomes for our children.

I hope that somewhere in the rancor of contemporary education reform debate we find the time and the empathy to see each facet of a school system’s complexity