Of all of the issues and challenges that face us as a society, our abysmal public education system is foremost among them. It’s not hard to identify the reasons for this failure: An archaic paradigm designed for another age and informed by a dehumanized assembly-line model that processes rather than inspires and mentors children; a ritualistic commitment to going through the motions rather than achieving excellent outcomes; a Kabuki Theater of faddish or merely time-wasting professional development and “sensitivity” trainings and purposeless faculty meetings; school improvement plans invested in and abandoned; an overwhelming administrative imperative of avoiding problems that constantly displaces any commitment to educational excellence; overpoliticized school district administrative and governance structures, focused more on ideological and power-consolidating maneuvering than on educating children; an anti-intellectual surrounding culture; a political zeitgeist emphasizing superficial and mechanistic “school reform” ideas which deepen rather than transcend the dysfunctional status quo and kick responsibility down the hierarchy toward those least able to address the structural problems involved; and the same political zeitgeist vilifying government (which school districts are) and starving them of much needed authentic public support. It’s a recipe for continuing and deepening failure.
What’s less obvious is how thoroughly within reach turning this around really is, how capable we are of transforming our public education system from one of the worst among developed nations to the very best in the world, bar none. We lack neither the human ingenuity nor material capital for doing so. Our children are in no way inherently less able to learn than the children of any other society. The challenge of inspiring and guiding and mentoring and educating our children from infancy through adulthood, and of thus liberating the genius of our populace to enable each to thrive individually and all to thrive collectively, is both the most critical and most tractable challenge we face as a society. (See Education Policy Ideas, Real Education Reform , Mistaken Locus of Education Reform, School Vouchers, Pros & Cons for some of my musings on education policy and education reform, and The Vital Role of Child, Family, and Community Services for a discussion of the related issues involving the social institutional and social emotional context that are students are embedded in.)
Human consciousness is the spark of divinity we carry within us, that magical, marvelous wonder that allows us to explore the universe with our minds, both the macrocosms and microcosms, from the farthest galaxies and most distant times, to the tiny particles dancing into and out of existence and our own elusive inner-selves. It is a captive giant, whose freedom is both the ends and the means of all other human endeavors. It is a tool for our prosperity and spiritual fulfilment, and a source of profound joy in and of itself, the font of our stories, of our arts, of our humor, of our scholarship, of our appreciation and celebration of the world of which we are a part. It is the essence of being human. (See The Politics of Consciousness , Adaptation & Social Systemic Fluidity, The Evolutionary Ecology of Social Institutions, The Fractal Geometry of Social Change, The Evolutionary Ecology of Human Technology, The Fractal Geometry of Law (and Government), Emotional Contagion, Bellerophon’s Ascent: The Mutating Memes (and “Emes”) of Human History, Information and Energy: Past, Present, and Future for some discussions of the relationship between human consciousness and our social institutional and technological landscape.)
This is why I become so excited when I see those too few but so inspiring genuine attempts to realize our potential, to educate our children in the truest sense of the word, to commit ourselves not in some superficial or mechanistic way, but heart and soul, using all of our passion and talent as educators, all of the information and experience available, all of the tools that have been developed and ideas that are now emerging, thinking, imagining, innovating, designing, refining, implementing, improving, refining, modifying, constantly and tenaciously, making it happen.
West Generation Academy is just such a venture, led by a passionate and inspiring principal, imbued with vision and imagination and discipline and commitment, poised to make a dramatic difference both directly and indirectly in the lives of untold numbers of children, and of our society as a whole. Like a butterfly flapping its wings in the turbulent atmosphere, what reverberating ripples it will send out into the suchness are yet to be known. If the school achieves what it is so determined and so well equipped to achieve, it will be a force of nature, liberating the genius of children who will then have a reverberating impact of their own on the world around them, inspiring emulation that then produces new waves of reverberating, self-amplifying success.
The Generation School model is a complete revamping of the structure of schools, not an attempt to reform education by some shallow panacea that appeals to those who live in a linear and oversimplistic world, but rather restructuring the school itself, and its relationship to families and communities. It restructures the space in which education happens, the way in which education is delivered, the calendar and the schedule, the planning and implementation, all in response to the question “what works?” (See http://westgenerationacademy.dpsk12.org/ for discussion of specific design innovations, and for more information about West Generation Academy.)
But a good model is not enough by itself: Passionate, inspiring leadership is also required; a spirit and energy infused into the project, a zeal and joy and optimism and commitment to turning a vision into a reality. And, rallied by that leadership, recruited and mobilized by it, a team of individuals all similarly invigorated and committed is also necessary. Judging from the presentation I attended a couple of days ago, all of these elements are in place, or are being put into place, by Bob Villarreal at West Generation Academy. Whether the potential that I felt pulsating in that room comes to fruition or not is yet to be seen; but the fact that the potential exists seems to me to be an undeniable reality.
When good things are happening around us, when talented and dedicated people are striving to make a difference, it is incumbent on the rest of us to offer what support we can. We are all in this story together, and all should be striving to work together to write it well. If you live on the West side of Denver, or are just a highly engaged member of the larger community (as I am), consider finding your own place in this exciting and encouraging new endeavor, whether it is as a parent looking for the right school for your child, an excellent teacher looking for the right school in which to work, or a member of the community looking for local initiatives in which to invest your energy and resources. (One small way to show support would be to “like” West Generation Academy’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/West-Generation-Academy/191616214259731)
Too often, those of us who are most politically and publicly engaged look for what’s wrong with the world and bemoan it, driven by anger and frustration, discouraged and disgruntled. But our real power lies in looking for what’s right with the world and nurturing it, cultivating the best sparks of positive change, blowing on them until they blossom into a brilliant blaze. West Generation Academy seems to me to be a glowing ember of great promise. Let’s lend it our own breath, our own inspiration, and help to ignite it into a roaring fire of realized potentials and expanding opportunities.