“The 21st Century Begins Now?”

We are a nation of lists.  We love lists.  To do lists.  In lists.  Out lists.  Check offs.  Top 25s.  Up and comers.  Give us a list, and it is something that we can embrace.

This month, Esquire magazine (yes, thank you Chris Whittle for saving this pub a few decades ago) is running a cover story on the 75th anniversary of the magazine, focusing on “The 21st Century Begins Now.”  The magazine’s publishers lay out the 75 most influential people of the 21st century.  The selections are more photo than caption (typical for the magazine), and many of them are quite interesting.
What is most startling, though, is how small a role education seems to play in the 21st century (at least in Esquire’s eyes).  When Time magazine did a similar list last year, we saw names like Bill Gates, Wendy Kopp, and others.  Real names that have been involved in real education reforms — and, more importantly, improvements — over the past decade.  Since then, we’ve seen continued investment from Ed in 08 to draw attention to education issues, we’ve heard the phoenix story of New Orleans public schools, and we’ve seen new superintendents take over new districts with a zeal that hasn’t been felt in quite some time.  Now we have events like Aspen’s National Education Summit tomorrow, designed to harness the power, enthusiasm, and sense of urgency that has been brought to modern day education reform.
Esquire seems to turn a blind eye to the influence of educators, though.  We have actors and musicians, futurists and techies.  But it seems educators struggle to make the top 75 list.  Perhaps they’ve forgotten that education has the potential to be the great equalizer, or that it serves as one of the most significant civil rights issues of our time.  Maybe they’ve failed to recognize that better education today results in better jobs and a stronger economy tomorrow.  Whatever the reason, education got little respect from Esquire.
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes the cut, but it is all about organizational reform and environmentalism.  Michael Milken is one it, but for his work with FasterCures healthcare reform, and not his previous education efforts.   Recent TED honoree Dave Eggers is on the list, and he nobly talks about the importance of reading, even in the 21st century society.  Bill Gates, of course is there, with a chart of his July charitable giving — only a fraction of it went to education causes, though, showing the diversification of his efforts (health, poverty, microfinance, policy, and education).
That would be the full list.  Maybe we can add actor Will Smith to the educators list because of his recent good work with charter schools.  But at the end of the day, we have one person on the list — an author — who is full-time involved in education.  Two on the list with education experience, though you can find it on their bios.  And one who’s impact on education has been quite measurable, even if it is a small part of the overall philanthropic impact.
I’ll say it.  That simply isn’t enough.  If we are looking at the 75 most influential people of the 21st century, we need to be looking at those who are influencing the actual leaders of the 21st century.  Actors and musicians and politicians may be trendy choices, but are they affecting real influence?  And can we really project the influencers of the century, when most organizations lack the foresight to thoroughly develop a 10-year strategic plan?
That’s why Eduflack is going to assemble a list of the nine individuals with the potential to influence education reform over the next decade.  If nine is good enough for a baseball team, it is good enough for me.  Maybe we’ll add a bench and some role players, but for now, the focus is our starting nine.  And I’m looking for some nominations for my draft.
Who is going assume the HR lead in getting hundreds of thousands of teachers hired following mass retirements over the next five years?  Who is going to harness disparate interests and move us to national education standards?  Who is going to redefine science and research in the classroom?  Who will lead the change evolve the role of principal into instructional and institutional leader?  Who has the approach to close the achievement gap?  Who’s got the inside track to end drop-out crisis?  Who moves STEM from the fringe to a central movement?
Our all-star team is not intended to be a list of well-known urban superintendents or organizational CEOs.  We’re looking for thinkers and voices.  We seek innovators and defenders.  We want the known and those who need to and should be discovered.  Eduflack has had a lot of fun playing parlor games regarding who will become the next EdSec.  But at the end of the day, I know that real reform and real improvement comes from those on the front lines.  EdSecs can provide vision and leadership, and they may even be able to coach the ed reform team, but they will never be the one to win the game.  We’re looking for true game changers and game winners.
Perhaps the Aspen Institute summit will spotlight on some individuals and some ideas that deserve consideration.  Perhaps the lists from Edutopia and others will help educate.  Regardless, the hunt is on.  Who wants to join the search?

One thought on ““The 21st Century Begins Now?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s