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by Zak Malamed
From an education perspective, 2014's State of the Union address was just more of the same.
When it comes to early childhood education, President Obama said, "As Congress decides what it's going to do, I'm going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need." In regards to keeping young men of color on track he said, "I'm reaching out to some of America's leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing tough odds stay on track and reach their full potential."
In both of his "bold" proposals there is one glaring commonality. No educators are involved. No parents are counseled. As the founder and executive director of Student Voice, an organization that aims to enhance the overall effectiveness of the student voice movement and create a greater understanding of why student voice is essential in the education and community ecosystems, it was disappointing that no student voices are heard. I am already gearing up for 2015—President Obama’s three-time repeat of the same State of the Union platitudes, especially in regards to education. This approach simply will not result in the kind of progress that we need.
Imagine President Obama dealing with the recession by collaborating with media outlets, presidential historians, and nonprofit organizations. These entities may play a role, but by no means should they be consulted before business leaders and economists. It would be flat-out illogical. The same can be said for his approach towards improving American education.
With that said, he did paint a picture of what effective reforms can lead to. President Obama's announcement of the partnerships to support his ConnectEd initiative that will bring high-speed broadband access to 99 percent of America’s schools within five years is exciting and necessary. The story of Estiven Rodriguez progressing from not being able to speak a word of English after moving to the United States at age nine to being accepted into college this upcoming fall was inspiring.
Estiven's story and his voice are a part of the solution! His educators. His parents. They are a part of the solution! Not a one size fits all solution, but one that impacts local communities across America in ways that help them to grow and allow students to pursue their dreams.
I saw promise in 2008 when President Obama was elected. I still see promise. However, when it comes to education, until he starts to involve and collaborate with all of the stakeholders in all conversations around education, that promise will remain empty.
This is not the President that 60 percent of young voters chose to elect in 2012, or that 66 percent of young voters chose to elect in 2008. There is a reason why less than half of young Americans now approve of the job he is doing.
Let me be clear, the President is not alone. Both he and Congress—with a 19 percent approval rating of Congress amongst young people, I’ll leave discussing them for another day…(Am I already jaded?)—must stop playing politics with the present and future of America's youth. However, after the State of the Union address, the spotlight is on Obama.
I hope that he does more than set up pseudo town halls with young people for the sake of a press conference. This act is stale. Every Monday at 8:30 PM EDT I host the #StuVoice Twitter chat, so I know exactly what America's youth are saying, and what they need.
Andrew Brennen, a senior in Lexington, Kentucky and student member of the non-profit education advocacy group Pritchard Committee, said during a joint Student Voice-NBC News Education Nation Google Hangout, "There has to definitely be student voice on all of these issues, early childhood education, access to broadband Internet…You know these kind of ideas, students consistently add to the conversation."
President Obama: ConnectEd, early learning, high school redesign, and student loans are critical issues to address. It was great to hear you talk about them, but please make all of the key stakeholders a part of informing and enacting educational progress.
In the meantime, every student should find an area within his or her school community that he or she wants to improve and work with their peers to transform their learning experience. There is no need to wait for President Obama to create change when you can advocate for and help to implement change more quickly—and maybe more efficiently too.
Student yelling into chat box image via Shutterstock
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