What Future Are You Building?

By Todd Kern

For at least a generation or more, virtually all stakeholders—students, parents, teachers, education leaders, policymakers, business and community leaders and others—have regularly shouted that our schools aren’t working for far too many kids. They’re right. Although lots of important progress is being made, it can sometimes be hard to see and we are all understandably impatient. Change is slow and the clock is ticking. So what gives?

The reality is that the world has changed (and continues to change) much more quickly than most of our schools have been able to respond. What today’s young people need to succeed is shifting. But whose job is it to address this challenge? Who is responsible to close the gap between what we have and what our kids need? I’ve thought a lot about this question—both in our work nationally at 2Revolutions and as a father of two kids making their way through public schools—and my answer is, well, all of us. If you’re reading this, that means YOU. You are responsible to be part of the solution, to have the courage to envision something different and better, then to take a next step. To engage.

The good news is that you (whoever you are!) have just precisely the right mix of experience, expertise and perspective needed to be successful at this job. Your first task is to connect with others in your community—the teacher across the hall from you; your next door neighbor while waiting at the school bus stop; at your church or synagogue or mosque, or wherever—and start or join a conversation about the vision you want for your kids...for ALL of our kids. Specifically, what do kids need to know and be able to do to be successful when they go out into the complex world that awaits them?  (Hint: Try not to act surprised when you realize we all want the same things for our kids.) You won’t get it exactly right on the first try—or ever, that’s not the point—but having a good answer to this first question is the rocket fuel that makes everything else possible. It’s the answer around which all learning should be designed.

Your next step is to work to better understand the gap between what you say kids need and what they’re getting today. This should help you zero in on tangible ways to get started trying (or advocating for) new approaches. Small, medium or large leverage points. Finally, and this is the dirty little secret to this work: there are no right answers. We are still at the beginning of the beginning of a process to remake our schools and learning systems around a renewed purpose. Working together, we’re slowly building a new transit system on which future generations will travel. Beware the vendor or sage who says they can solve your problems easily. This work is hard, messy and it takes time. It’s also the most important and rewarding work there is.  Nothing less than our healthy democracy and thriving economy depend on it.

So...what future are you building?