Futures in Pedagogy: Thinking Learning by Lou Cespedes

When we think of the array of education challenges in black and brown communities, one cannot help but despair. However, as an engineer I am trained to deal with challenges. For any engineer a problem is a solution waiting to be found. To adequately provide an answer you must first properly define the question before you. In our case, we’ve been asking the wrong question for decades; “how to integrate” our children in a school system that is fundamentally segregated. I challenge and reject this thesis of integration as a goal. The question should rather be: How do we further segregate educational alternatives that address the specific needs of our children and adults? We should further qualify this question by stating unequivocally that not all people “learn” in the same way, and not all teachers are capable of imparting knowledge in a way that is accessible. Before we venture into education solutions, we need to define pedagogy and its application in our community.

We have many demands: Adult training and continuing education, vocational learning, specialty skills including creative occupations like music, we have K-12 schooling, Pre-school and Daycare and Special Needs. In this constellation, something is lost when “systems” define actions. In the superstructures of accreditation, politics, and regulations, we have surrendered our children, our rights and obligations to create. We’ve accepted instead to conform, adapt, and contort within the maze of failing options made available to us. What we get is all of nothing. The proof is in! No additional funds for public schools, no integration in “specialized” schools, no gifted and talented programs, “Maspeth Minimums”, progressive pipe dreams, and generations of failing students and adults. Nowhere is that clearer in Brooklyn than in the communities of E. New York, E. Flatbush, and Brownsville.  

We must bring fresh thinking, and I would like to offer a few executable ideas for your consideration and reflection.

As a parent, I have recently learned to dread the idea of summer. Not only is summer school not voluntary in New York City, it is barely remedial. Everyone has heard of the “summer backslide”. The only adults I know that enjoy summer are teachers! What other adult gets 3 months off? Parents struggle not only spending large sums of money on summer camps, but also dealing with security and employment concerns. Why? We need to rethink the academic year and the academic schedule entirely. Longer school days and longer school years could dramatically change outcomes. Classes could be structured like college courses on specific days, allowing students to get more time concentrated on specific subjects at their own pace, particularly subjects they love. Support needs to be provided for those students to excel allowing for freedom of movement to other schools where they might find instruction and guidance.

Another idea to consider is professionalization itself. Kids and adults, particularly in our community have never seen a place of work – an office, a factory, a place where things are made, and services rendered. For many children and their parents that experience is remote. A vocational learning platform, the “work-study” format could provide valuable learning and training opportunities while affording high-school and college aged students financial income as they learn. This is so obvious! Yet NYCDOE has abandoned the underperforming students they’ve allowed to graduate, to be robbed further by the private sector and vulture capitalists in fake degree certification programs that promote student loan debt. Why not instead offer business tax incentives for providing vocational opportunities in the corporate community? Better still; why not give professionals the opportunity to teach both in the field and in the classroom so vocational students will get hands on training, best practices, current technology and management skills in a workplace setting.   

 

One final idea for us to consider is that we currently do not have an alternative structure to NYCDOE. Perhaps we need to give DOE a run for its money. What I propose here might seem crazy to some, but this has worked in other industries. In medicine, there is a phenomenon known as medical tourism. That is when patients that cannot afford adequate medical treatment here travel overseas to get treatment. Now consider we all come from incredibly diverse Caribbean countries, some of which have very strong educational foundations and work ethic. Consider the opportunities, financial and otherwise to take children out of our troubled community and send them to boarding schools in our home countries. The Lesser Antilles could certainly use the business. Examples in the Jewish community like the recently shuttered American Hebrew Academy might offer a blueprint. 

You cannot give what you do not have, and you cannot teach what you do not know. What we lack in our community is leadership with imagination and ideas. What we are missing is “judgement and a sound mind” to help us navigate through despair and fear. 

Think of how we could create an alternative system, in cooperation with churches, educational institutions and governments to invest in schools, create new synergies, and allow students to experience language, culture and learning to much higher standards than we are currently offered. I know these ideas are attainable if we stand on the promises of G-d.  

ISAIAH 43 v. 15-19

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