“I’m a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and States.” In President Obama’s state of the Union address, education was one of his main focuses. The president eloquently, yet definitively explained how capitalistic values (competition) will create a stronger education system, among other things. Even though I am encouraged by much of what our President has to say, I am also lead to believe that when it comes to the issue of education, Washington does not have the answer, and never has.
The Coalition for Community Schools posits that a community school is both “a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources, with a focus on social services, youth and community development.” I believe that a young person’s first fundamental right should be to have access to an education system that is fair and equal. However, there are multiple levels of human rights violations that young people deal with on a daily basis. While in my high school, I had to experience homophobia, threatened safety and poverty while struggling to receive an education that was inadequate. Fortunately there was a program in my high school called “Facing History and Ourselves” (FHAO). It is a non-profit organization that I was first introduced to as a tenth grader in my high school. They provide opportunities for students to discuss and reflect on civic engagement, organize community members, and advocate for services. Similar to my experience in FHAO, the community schools initiative allows for our society to bring communities and schools back into the same conversation. There has been a false dichotomy set between schools and communities; this is problematic because both of these things are intertwined at their core. You cannot reform the education system without simultaneously reforming communities. Furthermore, you cannot reform education simply by telling community members and schools to compete with one another.
I believe that in society, the solution to the educational dilemma that we face in the 21st century has not gone unanswered. Our system is intrinsically rooted in inequality in funding, resources and services; however, we can find hope in community schools that become more popular around the country. We know that we have to keep intersectionality at the forefront of our models and think about youth and communities with a multi-systemic paradigm. We also know that wrap-around services are needed to efficiently produce successful services and that we cannot break cycles of poverty without changing communities and education systems at their foundation. I am interested in a systemic approach to education reform. Starting on a macro level by producing policies that support the efforts of brining together organizations, best practices and educational institutions to support individuals in the micro level. The community schools model is not the answer to all of societies problems, but it is a glimpse into a better future for community members and the schools that gauge the future success of those communities.
Two year ago I was introduced to an organization called the Harlem Children’s Zone. A project that is giving some a glimpse into the systemic problems we face in our education system and giving us some answer to what some consider to be an unsolvable problem of education. HCZ, which to me sets the standard for what a community school should look like, is a direct example that has engaged us with the social issues of education and simultaneously conquered many of those issues. Drugs, poverty, lack of funding (when it first started), systemic barriers, historical racism, you name it, the children who are involved in HCZ have probably experienced some form of it. This is because the issues faced in inner city neighborhoods across the country are not new, yet solutions are sparse. Community schools have taught our society how to care for the individual first, but also how to look at these problems through a larger lens and broadened context.