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Colin Powell speaks about no child left behind!

February 2, 2013

It’s been awhile since I posted on my blog.  Today, represents a time to re-engage with thinking and writing about education.  Good to be back.

I can’t imagine an easier way to into the swing of things that to reflect on an inspiring TED talk that I watched recently.  Former Secretary of State General Colin Powell sharing his thoughts about the importance of structure in the lives of school children was a breath of fresh air coming from an elder statesman.

Let me share some of his thoughts and reflect on them from the perspective of an educator in Atlanta.  First, I would highly recommend you watch his talk.

Powell advocates for families and schools to provide children with structure.  Having come out of a strong military background, he makes the case that the type of structure he learned and experienced provided him with a firm foundation with which to navigate challenging situations he faced in his career.  He implied that his extended family was an integral part of the structure that helped him keep his focus, especially during his school years where he struggled significantly.

He told a series of interesting stories from his military background, as well as from his time growing up in New York City.  Reflecting on the value of structure in the life of young men in the military he said,

The most amazing thing happens over time, once that structure is developed….they have a skills, they are mature and you know they come to admire the drill Sargent, the come to respect him.

He pointed out that young people respect adults around them who provide structure, allowing them to take risks and know someone is there to support them if they struggle.  In the case of families, Powell definitely affirmed the value of children growing up in a community.  While he did not use the phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child,” he certainly was promoting that ideal.   He said,

Raising children properly is something that prepared them to be ready for school.

Family and school are partners in the ongoing efforts to bring out children up to be respectful citizens.  One of the powerful themes he kept raising throughout his talk was:

The gift of a good start.

Looking back on his own childhood, he reflected on the “good start” his parents gave him.  Their example and values were a beacon that guided them throughout school, the ROTC and his military life.  Then he shared a very powerful statement:

It ain’t where you start in life, it’s what you do with life that determines where you end up in life. We are blessed that in this country no matter where you start you have opportunities.  But you have to believe in yourself, you believe in the society and country and  you believe that you can self-improve and educate yourself.  That’s the key to success.

I believe that one of the biggest challenges neighborhood schools face in the United States is building a strong sense of community.  Powell said,

Children need to be part of community, a network, a family, a tribe.

He was asked that we think seriously about putting the culture of structure and high expectations back into our families and schools.  We have to be mentors to our young people and not only care about our children, but all children.  Every child needs a good family and a good education.  Without this foundation, they will be unprepared to inherit this country and move it into a bright and prosperous future.

General Powell is taking his responsibility seriously, leaving legacy of mentoring for our young people.  We all could learn from his example and reach out to help.

His final words in the talk were:

We are fueled by young people coming up from every land in the world and it is our obligation as contributing citizens of this wonderful country of ours that “no child is left behind.”

We need to understand that all the conversation around high-stakes tests, teachers being evaluated using their students’ achievement on standardized tests, and standards-based education is meaningless and misguided if we are unable to dialogue about the things that really matter in determining success in life.   Those things are being surrounded and nurtured by a community of adults who care about who we are and who we will become.  Who understand that building a strong community in families and schools is the only hope we have if we intend not to leave any child behind.

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