For decades, America has been perceived as the ‘land of opportunity’ where the streets are lined with gold and anyone can achieve their dreams if they worked for them. Just as a reminder that change is constant, today the superpower, champion of democracy and free market capitalism presents a different picture to the world and its citizens. As Paul Krugman writes “poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can’t find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they’ll never work again.” It just might take Superman to lift the United States out of its 25th slot for education worldwide.
Two Princeton events this past Friday highlighted the country’s education crisis. Speaking at the Nassau Presbyterian Church Friday evening, Marian Wright Edelman, founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund, declared the nation’s state of a “child emergency.” Earlier that day, the “Education as the Civil Rights Issue of Our Time” panel organized by Princeton University’s undergraduate student governing body and TeachForAmerica and moderated by President, Shirley Tilghman, spoke to undergraduates about a fundamental paradox –America’s rank in education while still possessing the best institutions in the world. Panelists included Joel Klein, New York City Public School Chancellor, Leslie-Bernard Joseph ’06 Princeton graduate and Dean of Students for Coney island Prep School, and Shavar Jeffries, Public Interest Lawyer and President, Newark Public Schools Advisory Board which stands to benefit from $100 million dollar grant from entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Much of the focus was on teachers, assessment, accountability all aimed at brining schools into the 21st century. When a young KIPP student questioned the panel about why teachers are catching all the blame, Klein admitted to her that we “all are to blame.”
This attendee came away seeing teachers as “first responders” to a systemic problem that exists in society-at-large. What does it say to us as a teaching society if we cannot bring our children along by modeling cultural mores and educational values? What does it say about us as a learning society, incapable of seeing the potential that our youth—our future—holds? Although this may not hold true for a Princeton University student, what does it say about our schools that a student can get all the way to college and say that it was the first time she experienced a teacher/professor asking what she thought about a topic? As Edelman asked her audience “What is it about us (as a society) that insists on hurting children?” Or stands by as silent perpetrators of what she calls the “cradle-to-prison pipeline.” The Princeton University panel presented to an almost-capacity audience late on a Friday afternoon at a time when most college students are wrapping up a week of studies and starting their weekend. Instead they came to listen, participate in this sobering event. Could this be the “superman” generation we are all waiting for.
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