This is Geoffrey Canada, founder and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone in NYC. The organization has helped and is helping many children in Harlem rise above their circumstantial poverty and finish high school and even college. You may have seen him in Waiting For “Superman,” a documentary that shows how charter schools are what many communities are resorting to so their children can have a “quality” education (whatever that is.)
Canada spoke at Miami University recently with impassioned words about how the United States is failing its children in a number of ways—one, of course, being education.
His goal and mission is to somehow impact the public education system in the United States with his model. Some things I thought were interesting about his perspective is that:
1. We are forcing our children to be first and foremost consumers, exploiting them in making them want to buy everything, eat everything, and desire all that is material. This relates to education because we want to educate them solely to be part of the workforce, and do not treat them as humans.
2. Teachers have to have a stake in the future of our schools if anything is to change. We cannot just sit back and collect a paycheck and assume things will get better.
3. The time spent on developmentally appropriate activities, especially in the pre-kindergarten years, is too low. This is more prevalent in lower SES communities like Harlem. Canada realizes that children must be read to, must have pre-school activities and pre-reading activities, to even have a chance at reading at an age-appropriate level. Harlem Children’s Zone spends more time than a regular school day working with children, feeding them, and playing with them. The teachers must be dedicated, and they must be willing to put in the time.
I was fortunate enough to be able to ask Canada a question after his lecture, about teacher accountability and how it matches to the scores of the students in his school. He said that with that question, “you must be a teacher.” (I felt pretty proud to be able to say yes to that). He said that they calculate how much progress a teacher has made with a group of students. If this teacher makes good progress, they may move him/her to a group of students that needs a good teacher who can handle them. This is pretty backwards compared to most public schools—the teachers who are the ‘best’ usually get the advanced students in their classes.
Canada was inspirational and I doubt that I will forget some of the points he made about teachers and what our role is in education. I hope to hear more about him in the future, and I hope his ideas begin to take hold not just in the charter school community, but in public schools too.