The election post-mortem is going to continue for quite some time. The repercussion of this vote will be subject to discussion and analysis from pundit and pulpits, talking heads and talk radio.
For me, the most surprising thing is not that Donald Trump won the election — although I will admit that I never thought it was possible. What surprises and saddens me is the inescapable conclusion that huge swaths of our country – millions and millions of our fellow citizens — feel overlooked and left behind by the forces of change buffeting our nation.
In a New York Times piece on June 29, 2016 Tom Friedman presciently wrote about this tragic reality.
It’s the story of our time: the pace of change in technology, globalization and climate have started to outrun the ability of our political systems to build the social, educational, community, workplace and political innovations needed for some citizens to keep up. While some of us are educated and agile enough (one could say “privileged”) to accept the pace of change, and thrive in this new “story of our time,” others lack the resources and training needed for today’s world, and fall further and further behind.
This is glaringly obvious in education. Public education was once seen as the great equalizer, putting most Americans on a roughly equal footing. Today, however, education requires technology investment, infrastructure to support innovation, connectivity to each other and the rest of the world, and a willingness to embrace change — and the result is the grossly unequal educational system that we know all too well, and fails too many American families. The elements that make my children (and likely yours too) among the world’s most advanced and educated citizens, play a key role in holding back far too many other children – and their families and communities.
The election results illustrated this in stark relief. When it comes to education, of the top 10 performing states, 8 of them voted for Hillary Clinton. At the bottom end of the scale, it was exactly the opposite — 8 of the 10 lowest performing states went for Donald Trump. Education is only one force at work, of course, but in the states where education is failing and student progress is faltering, the voters saw little hope for the future, and embraced messaging about the better days of the past.
There is good news in all this. If weak education can sap hope and diminish dreams, then a strong and effective education is the best answer to reversing that decline.
Education opens minds, exposes people to different views and ways of thinking, and — unlike a union job in a factory — gives people something that can never be taken away. People from around the world make dramatic efforts to secure an American education (it is, perhaps, our last great export), but here at home too many of our fellow citizens send their kids to schools that are crumbling, ill-equipped, outdated, understaffed, and without the technology innovations that power learning.
Education can provide a hopeful future for everyone — not just those of us fortunate enough to occupy the higher economic rungs. Education can retrain a laid off worker, creating opportunities where they once would have seen a dead end. Education can instill hope for the future for the millions of families that so clearly have lost hope.
Our industry knows the impact education can have — on a single student, on his/her family, on an entire community. We know how to do this. Every day, millions of American students benefit from a thriving education system. The technology exists; we see it at work in high-performing schools prevalent in the states that Clinton carried.
This election has surfaced an opportunity. We can drive education innovation and EdTech into all schools, giving all kids the resources they deserve. We can harness technology to deliver specialized AP classes to even the most rural schools. We can leverage technology for better teacher training, more effective pedagogy, more engaging curriculum. We can embrace vocational education and training to put workers on a new pathway to success in the global economy, rather than allowing them to languish in a place of hopelessness.
This will require investment and the political will to catalyze change. Students in the bottom 10 states have the same right to a 21st century education as the students in the top 10 states. Those students currently being left behind may need more help or services, greater remediation, diligence at ensuring community college credits transfer, creativity with funding mechanisms, and real guidance when reviewing higher ed options. But those are the students whose lives will be changed forever, by the education to which they are already entitled, but remains out of reach for too long.
The election results awakened me to the reality that too many of my fellow citizens don’t see a future bursting with promise and opportunity. Each of us owes those left-behind voters our best effort to bring their education systems in-line with the ones our children enjoy. Despite the rhetoric, these voters aren’t some mythical “other” to be feared — they are “us,” fellow citizens facing a different American experience than most of us do.
By moving some communities ahead and leaving others behind, education contributed to the feelings of hopelessness. But it can also fuel reinvention and an economic revival in places that need it desperately. Most importantly, a 21st century education can restore a sense of hope for the future and a commitment to the common good. It’s in our collective best interest that all students receive an education that points them towards success, able to overcome the forces of change that Tom Friedman called out.
Education is the key to repairing the fractures that divide this country. If you truly believe that we are stronger together, then we must work to ensure that opportunity is available to everyone, and that we share a future bright with the promise that America can be great again… for each and every one of us.
Josef Blumenfeld is the founder of EdTech180, a PR and communications consultancy with expertise in serving the EdTech industry. EdTech180 has a global client mix, representing EdTech companies in the US, Ireland, Jordan, and Israel. For more information, please see www.EdTech180.com or follow @EdTech180 on Twitter.
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