The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child”, is without question absolutely correct. Somewhere along the way, we have lost sight of the child and lost sight of the village. Education in the United States has lost its mojo. We are no longer first in class. We have left the needs of the child for the needs of a corporate-designed plan to educate our country’s young people. The kids aren’t failing, the ones making the decisions are. It can be fixed. We just need to create a village. Seriously, I am not kidding.

Instead of building school buildings, we need school communities. Yes, I envision tree shaded sidewalks, stores, companies, and classrooms/labs. Going to school would be like visiting a small village, but students would be in charge. This concept would be project-based learning on steroids. My son went to The Duke School for transitional kindergarten in Durham, North Carolina. My view on education was radically changed. I began to see that kids learn better when they move around, when they are involved in the process, and when the information is relevant. I vividly remember their bakery project. They visited a bakery. From there they learned shapes from baking tins, measurements from recipes, mathematics from running their in-class bakery, vocabulary from all things baking, and science from the nutrition necessary for good health. The students never even realized what was happening. The knowledge poured into their brains and the students…well, they were having fun. Fun, you say…at school. Yes, indeed. Learning should be fun, inspiring, and life changing.

Okay, back to the village. Just imagine students learning while maintaining the village. Corporations could have small branches in the village where students could learn the many aspects of real time work. Programming, design, mechanics, hospitality, governing, child care, public servant work…the list is endless. Classroom material would mirror the current internship the student is participating in. No more sitting in class all day, but rather learning and putting the learning to work in the village. Students would have opportunities to find their strengths as well as their passions. No more teaching to a test, but rather teaching to life. Adults could give of their time to share their expertise. Giving back seems to always result in a win/win situation. Older classmates would mentor younger students. The village would be real world.

The outcome of this model would be engaged, confident young people. The focus would no longer be on weaknesses, but on strengths. All students would have important roles in the success of the village. Therefore, it would be important for students to put to use what they are good at and what they love doing. Finding those strengths would be a result of the many village opportunities available to each student. Not only would amazing learning take place, but also social skills and the ability to work for the common good.

This may sound far-fetched, but it isn’t. Our students are not coming out of high school ready for employment or for college. We are robbing kids of confidence and the creative ability to innovate. Kids are spending long days behind a desk preparing for a test. Really, how crazy is that? It is not a test that will produce future adults ready to take on the world. But a village education…it might be just what we need. Academics that are relevant, work experience, responsibility, and fun…yes, fun. The best way to keep the magic of learning alive is to be a part of the process. The process cannot happen in a classroom. It happens in the heart and in the mind of an engaged learner being mentored by a skilled and knowledgable expert in their field of study.

American cities have so many empty malls and shopping centers. These educational villages could begin at these locations and revitalize real communities. Corporations and businesses would be engaged in the education of young people in our communities. I believe in the educational village concept and I believe in communities making every kid their kid. We can no longer walk away from students who are poorly educated, disengaged, and, ultimately, given one-way tickets into poverty. We must be the village that helps build the village of innovative learning. The time is now to reinvent education in the United States. We must rethink what education is in this age of technology. With certainty, I can tell you what it is not…passing a test. We must give American minds American dreams. Those dreams have always been far-fetched…impossible to imagine…until they are reality.

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