Can a National Student-Led Movement Catalyze Education Reform?

Posted by Liz Dwyer

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Can a student-led movement get young people to become vocal agitators for education reform? That’s the goal of EdMonth, a national student-led movement and discussion that seeks to catalyze college-age students and get them to drive the discussion on improving both K-12 schools and higher education in America.

"We are trying to bring as much national attention to education, making it the 'next big thing' for our nation's youth to rally behind," says one of the movement’s organizer’s, University of Southern California freshman Kevin Sanchez. He says that while education inequality has been described as the most important civil rights issue of our time, not enough is being done to fix our education system. "Teachers are still being laid off, schools are being closed, and kids are not leaving high school with the skills necessary to succeed."

Sanchez, who is the first in his family to attend college, is all too familiar with the grim statistics: only about half of children born into poverty graduate from high school, and a mere 8 percent go on to graduate from college. But along with organizing on-campus forums and events featuring prominent educators, parents, policymakers, business leaders, elected officials, and students, Sanchez says he also wanted to visually represent to the world why the stakes are so high.

"It’s forgotten that everyone has big dreams," he says. So he teamed up with a fellow freshman, film student Raul Alcantar, and headed to a Los Angeles elementary school and made a short video to capture the aspirations of low income students of color. "They want to own businesses, they want to be teachers—I don’t think people realize that just because we're poor and minority that doesn’t mean we don't have dreams. We just don't have the opportunity."

Sanchez says that while the students featured in his video ultimately have to work hard and believe in themselves, the adults in charge also have to do their part. "The cuts to education and poor education policy just codifies discrimination in our society," he says. And while he has no patience for teachers who don't care about their students, he's not bashing them either. "After Waiting for Superman I felt like people were crucifying teachers," he says. "It's kind of like, get off of teachers—they can only do so much."

Ultimately, Sanchez hopes that student groups beyond USC will want to get involved in making education innovation and reform the next big thing that youth can come around and fight for. "People watched the Kony 2012 video," says Sanchez, "but we have ridiculous issues of inequality with the youth at home." And if we don’t fix them, he says, "our country won’t prosper."