Hacking Education Detroit

DetroitFor the last couple years we have, inspired by the fine folks at Union Square Ventures, been running dinners under the banner of “Hacking Education”, the intention being to connect together people who are passionate about changing the game in education. The events have included tech entrepreneurs, leading foundations and non-profits, investors passionate about education and policy makers not content with the status quo. Our world tour of sorts has consisted of San Francisco, Seattle, New York and Washington D.C. On September 16th, we’ll add a new city to that list: Detroit.

A couple of months ago I was approached by a group of students who are part of running the Social Venture Fund at the University of Michigan with the idea to host a dinner in Detroit. I was immediately sold because of the simple belief that if there’s anywhere that needs to have education hacked, it’s Detroit.

The numbers are truly astounding. As of right now, Detroit is slated to close half of its public schools over the next two years which will raise class sizes to an astonishing 60 students per. This is in a city where almost half of the adults are functionally illiterate and an equivalent percentage of children live below the poverty line. It’s so bad that the city issued a mass layoff for all of its teachers and you can’t even find someone to run for open slots on the school board.

So why Detroit?

One person’s lost cause is another’s opportunity and there’s a growing feeling that, like what happened in New Orleans after Katrina, if you can change the game here you can change it anywhere. Detroit has a lot of problems. There’s no denying that. As does Cleveland, Baltimore and huge swaths of Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky and so many other places in the country. Which gives us two options: giving up on these cities and considering these cities and regions as a part of America’s past or fighting for these places and refusing to believe they won’t be part of America’s future.

What’s going on right now in education is unparalleled. I attended a White House event today on Jobs and Competitiveness in Palo Alto and at times it felt like a two-hour long commercial for Khan Academy. And that’s completely awesome. That we can take one of the most brilliant teachers in the history of the planet and “bring him” to Detroit through the magic of YouTube and high-speed Internet represents incredible potential. And Salman is just one of so many people who are working tirelessly to make sure that the education of tomorrow is open and accessible. There are many passionate and hard-working teachers and administrators on the ground and people all around the country who care deeply about what is going on in these cities.

I feel we may be on the brink of having two countries in America. But if there’s an equalizer, something that keeps us from becoming a country that simultaneously has hordes of millionaires and billionaires and also chronic 20+% unemployment, it’s education. And while there’s no magic formula we can’t think of a better place to focus on than the cities that seem most hopeless. Which is why we’re so excited about September 16th and what the future might hold. If you’d like to be involved in anyway, please drop me a line. This is only a small effort, and only one of many of course, but one that we hope inspires others to think about what we can do to help those who need it the most.

(Note: Donors Choose also offers some other great opportunities to help as they currently list 59 projects in Detroit that you can help with. It’s a great way to make a real difference for teachers and students there.)

02. August 2011 by Jon
Categories: Education, Personal | 1 comment

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