The college decision for Conor has been made. It's Centre College
in Danville, Kentucky. The designation that is the title of this piece comes from a slogan at Centre. C6H0 reflects Centre's basking in the long ago glory of a 1921 win against the undefeated Harvard football team, 6-0. The New York Times
later called it "Football's Upset of the Century." Seems like living in the past to me. At the same time it seems to be handled in a good spirit of fun.
This got me thinking about graduation and the way we handle things in the public sphere -- particularly related to urban areas and public education. There is often great groaning and wringing of hands related to graduation rates in urban communities -- particularly low income communities. Now urban schools are important -- and they are also not perfect. They are also not the Savior. They cannot solve the problems of why young people don't go to or finish high school. In our public life, it seems that we like to find a scapegoat -- and if kids aren't finishing high school and are getting in trouble -- it's obviously the fault of the school or teachers (or whomever). It is my belief though that schools can't solve these problems for us -- they are part of the solution -- with all of us -- but they are not the solution, itself. Even if we wanted them to be (which we seem to want) it just won't work. Not because there aren't good dedicated teachers -- not because there aren't people who care. It's because young people don't come to school unshaped by family and community. The solution is a community and a family one -- even more than the school.
My brother Alan is a public high school principal in Chicago at Lindblom Math & Science Academy
. It's a very fine school. He and his staff and students are really doing a great job there. It is what a public school should be. I think that there are a lot better things going on at public schools than the larger public perception would lead one to believe. It seems to me that we blame teachers and schools for problems that we have been unwilling to solve as a society.
So...I would like to remark on one thing I think communities, congregations and other groups can do to help. That is to celebrate those in our communities that are graduating from high school. A couple of months ago I was part of a group of clergy that was invited to meet with Dr. Eugene White the Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent. At that meeting he asked the gathered clergy to challenge our congregations to "adopt" the neighborhoods around our church buildings. I remember thinking that we at Broadway are already there.
If you see your neighborhood as part of your family then one of the things that you do - (at least that we are doing at our home as we prepare for Conor's graduation) is you celebrate the graduate. How can that help? And does it help? Well -- I can say that the solutions that the community has been working on -- tutoring, mentoring, etc...haven't really worked. Things have gotten worse over the years. What if we started trying something different? What if we celebrated those who do graduate? What if we gather family and neighbor and sing together the praises of the young people and their families who have gotten across the goal line of graduation? Wouldn't other neighbors and family members see that celebration going on and feel at least a little bit attracted to the good time and the laughter? Lest you discount such things as "soft" -- I would remind you that are "hard" answers haven't been all that effective. What if in the midst of such a celebration we find ways to celebrate the role parents and family members and congregations and neighbors and other organizations and persons have played in that young person's life?
I have been having an interesting (to me) online discussion with another blogger about what makes for successful marriage. My problem with what he is writing is that I don't think his assertions about what will work to strengthen marriage have been shown to actually work. His solutions certainly are the conventional wisdom. But you would be hard pressed to show that those solutions have actually been helpful. It is fascinating to me that a sociology professor (which he is) would use what some might call "fuzzy thinking" to justify his position -- rather than looking at the problem from a variety of different perspectives and seeking what WOULD or at least MIGHT work.
How does that connect to education? I think that our society seems to believe that schools can solves these problems. I don't believe it's been shown that they can. I think that our society seems to believe that the way to respond to it is by focusing on what is wrong. I don't think that is a proven winner either. It strikes me that so much of what the church does today in low income communities -- things like tutoring or after school programs are certainly not at all bad things -- but we keep celebrating them as if they were accomplishing a lot more than what they may actually be accomplishing. We let ourselves "wish" them into practice. Many folks in our congregation work at Lilly. If someone's boss asks her or him to tell them if a drug that they are testing is working and they were to reply "yes, it is..." and the boss asks why and the worker replies "well...I just really think it is..." that would be an unacceptable answer. But we accept it all the time in our communities -- particularly in our work with low-income communities and people. Why?
I've decided I like the fact that Centre celebrates it's victory of Harvard in 1921. I think we need a lot more celebrating and a lot less focusing on what is wrong. One can use a victory to build on other victories -- like building a fine academic institution (and not a football powerhouse).
I wonder if we celebrated in as many fun and glorious ways that we could the young people and families and communities who are graduating from high school this year -- if that may not be the true seeds of new opportunities and change that everyone really wants.