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By Chris Geden Community Outreach Director -Childrens Education Alliance of Missouri
Last night, at the Missouri History Museum, there was a round table discussion around the previously screened movie Waiting for Superman. There were about twenty people in attendance and at least twenty different opinions regarding American education and they way to reform it. Actually at times the conversation was so heated and diverse that, it felt like there where two hundred people in the room with differing ideas and perceptions about the state of education.
The crowd was diverse, there were teachers from public, private, and public charter as well as social workers and college students, education reformers, anti-reformers, and just interested citizens in attendance. The discussion was supposed to be about the movie. However, I have learned that when you talk about education, especially education in failing school districts, everyone’s attention is quickly pulled straight to the real world examples of failure in their own backyard. The group, while having very different opinions and experiences, was able to meet in small groups to have passionate, honest, and at times heated, discussions.
The topics in these small group discussions ranged from teacher tenure, parent involvement, and the achievement gap to the Outstanding Schools Act and school choice. The manner in which people interacted with each other on these hot button issues highlighted the frustration people feel as they try to get their voices heard. I have to admit I got a little agitated when people misrepresented the facts about school choice, teacher tenure, and the Outstanding Schools Act. However, once I was able to sit back and really listen I was able to understand and appreciate that everyone comes at education reform from a different experience and perspectives. I also realized last night that if progress is going to be made, more conversations like last night’s are going to have to happen.
All in all, I found the discussion very gratifying and it was rewarding. Hopefully I was able to give some anti-reformers some things to think about. I would have liked to have seen more people there of course but for what it was a great way to spend a Wednesday evening.