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Why the Creative Class Needs to 'Lean in' to Education Reform

Creatives need to engage and provide feedback education, and the result will ultimately lead to more action.

It's extraordinary how the narrative of American public education—and its reform—is shifting. Creatively motivated people are propelling an undercurrent and it's an encouraging stimulus to the larger movement. It is, indeed, a time to facilitate "education for all"—aiming high to do so with better, more dynamic standards. But we need more people doing. We need more "denters," as a good advisor once told me.

Concerned educators have led the mainstream front for years—Bill Damon and Wendy Kopp come to mind, along with Michelle Rhee and others. A major difference today, however, is that the creative class is willing to lean in for a stronger push. The core of this creative movement is full of individuals who care to see things change for the future of this country, and the state of education has come to the forefront. Still, there is so much more to do and so much to more to contribute.

I mention this reality considering our government is not driving innovation for the sake of education. Few people are, really. Thanks to sequester cuts, federal education programs are already feeling the punch. In the case of Head Start, for example—a program that provides early childhood education, nutrition, and health services to low income families—this means 2,000 fewer seats here and 2,000 fewer seats there. City after city, the number will add up to nearly $400 million in budgetary cuts, and there seems to be little remorse from Congress. It is shocking.

As our public education system grows weaker our uniting sense of citizenship is ripe and ready, and this generational shift may enable us to do more. In whatever way we can help, we must encourage and stimulate more of this civic activity. Trust us—it can be fun.

This very notion of fun-meets-cause kept brewing in my mind when my team and I recently played hosts to a group of productive movers and cultural shakers in San Francisco. An eclectic group of professionals came together at our BLK SHP headquarters inside The Popular Workshop—artists, educators, designers, and technologists, a very San Francisco vibe overall. Everyone was there in support our effort towards pushing this new narrative—one of collaboration, contribution and change.

We identified a few "denters" that night and praised their hard work. Then we handed them the microphone. Gerald Richards (826 National) spoke of writing and creativity—the importance of nurturing and exploring young minds outside of the classroom. Chris Robb (Detroit Achievement Academy) shared his story, still in the making, of starting a public charter school with his close friends in Detroit—a city where kids are in desperate need of support and better schools. Michael Nobleza (Children's Creativity Museum) then brought it all full circle and championed the very reason why we were there: creativity, collaboration, and communication can be pivotal at this point if we use these elements wisely.

With a solid group of willing and capable "black sheep" voices aligned—and many more to surface this year—we have now set out on a mission to accomplish three goals in 2013, pushing this undercurrent in the narrative a bit further.

First, we can all help and support education nonprofits and schools, such as 826 National, Children's Creativity Museum, the Detroit Achievement Academy (or the great folks at Boostup). Since these happen to share our organizational values of fostering creativity, life-long learning and collaboration, we've joined forces with to create a BLK SHP Education Fund. It's a start, and it's easy to get involved.

Second, beginning April 4th, we're kicking off a new series of action-oriented discussions with the 92YTribeca. Open to the public, these discussions will showcase the varied perspectives of partnering "black sheep" and will help our organization and collaborators address some of the country's most pressing issues—education being the first of many. Audience members will be encouraged to engage and provide feedback on certain topics, and the result will ultimately lead to more action.

Last but not least, our collective efforts will culminate with a focused education summit. As a sort of destination wedding—without the wedding—we'll use our design thinking skills to create and prototype at least five different actionable projects (fellowships) that will act upon our focus in education. Two of these will then be sponsored as BLK SHP culture initiatives in support of education reform, and the remaining three ideas will be left open and on the table for other willing donors to take on. After all this groundwork in 2013, perhaps the soil will be ready for some truly innovative reform and action with American education.

Please join us, and get involved in whatever way you can. All it takes is the will to be part of a new solution and the will to unite for education.­­

Click here to add volunteering at your local 826 center to your GOOD "to-do" list.

Photo via BLK SHP

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