Our new colleague, Dr. Wesley Boykin is a well-traveled educator. There is literally nothing that he has not done both in this country and abroad. Talking to Wes is like talking to an education encyclopedia. We are fortunate that he has volunteered to be part of the staff of our nascent rural schools group, SCORS.
I could probably listen to Wes for hours. I have actually done it for two hours straight in our home about 2 months ago. His understanding of education goes way beyond almost anyone that I have ever heard. He has experience in all kinds of districts, rural and urban, universities and research organizations. He has even served time with the ACT organization, producers of the ACT test.
Therefore, when Wes says something, I listen intently. Carol and I both found ourselves at a meeting in Columbia, South Carolina. . The meeting was part of a federal program called the Promise Zone. The idea of the program is go gather folks from many agencies and schools to work together to improve a certain area. In this case it is the southwest part of the state of South Carolina. It includes six counties and 10 school districts.
Carol and I have visited most of these districts and find their lack of funds and lack of proper teaching staff depressing. The meeting was well directed by a gentleman who has a long history in education and now serves as the education director of a children’s museum that caters to children from economically deprived schools.
Not that they don’t have children from wealthier schools, but as soon as you walk in, you know what they are about. It is called EdVenture. It is truly a wonderful place.
Marc, the leader, broke us into 3 groups to discuss what is going on in these areas and what might be some solutions to their problems. The discussions were lively and filled with interesting ideas. I kept mostly silent in the education group. I guess I was waiting for some sort of explosion of new ideas.
Carol was in the families and communities group. Wesley was in the Health and Nutrition group. After the groups concluded their discussions, they were asked to report to the larger group. There were some interesting points, but nothing astounding. I believe Marc expected that there would be some sort of product that he could hold onto and present to the people in charge of the Promise Zone.
As Wesley began to speak, a thought came into my head. Here we were, a group of professionals speaking at a problem. The problems inherent in these communities lay in the lowest level of Maslow’s hierarchy. They are at the basic needs stage.
Wesley’s point came into sharp contrast to what had already been said. He pointed out that all of the proposed items were just overlays that had already been tried before. Simple used templates will not improve the Promise Zone. We are all restricted by what we know and what we feel comfortable doing. Therefore our solutions are circumscribed by our experiences.
These continual problems will not cure themselves with what we have already tried before. Just because you raise your voice to a deaf person, he/she will not hear you.
Looking at the all of the variables that were presented to us, it was apparent that what we have tried is not working. It was sad to come to such a conclusion. It is simple to say that either the people who live there do not want to improve, or that they don’t have the resources to improve, or that there are few jobs, or that the system is corrupt.
Have you ever seen someone take hold of an organization and make it sing? Have you seen one person lift a community by him or herself? Should we not be looking at unusual things done by unusual people? In a book that I am reading now, “My grandmother told me to say she was sorry,” one of the characters says, “The world is not changed by normal people.”