Earlier this month, an article appeared in Los Angeles Magazine discussing the elite private middle and high schools in West Los Angeles that were forced to confront racial inequity and bias. This discussion and subsequent debate began as one of the schools participated in a public expression of support in response to national events leading up to the resurgence of The Black Lives Matter movement.
Apparently, the internal perspective that arose and the response the school leadership felt necessary focused on reconciling an environment that traditionally has offered modest inclusion of attributes welcoming to students of color in a culture that continues to be dominated by families of privilege. A substantial component of the existing population of families worried about upholding the tradition of an education specifically designed to prepare students for the chance to attend many of the country’s best places of higher education.
I will make no judgments on the merits of either side of the debate, but apparently the proposed solutions focused on removing elements of the curriculum insensitive to a diverse population while increasing programs designed to raise awareness of ethnic and racial diversity. Educators behind the proposed changes defended their strategy from positions of experience and knowledge about the best course for student outcomes.
As with so many other challenges in our society, it felt to me that this debate entirely missed the mark. If the private school marketplace wants to engage in a transformative discussion about the impact that they could make in the inequality of education, perhaps they could consider the following.
In Los Angeles, the cost of tuition and fees at one of these schools is nearing $50,000 per year. At the same time, the annual area median income for families in Los Angeles is approximately $62,000 per year. As part of their public image, each of the schools tout the degree of financial support offered to students of need annually, but in fact, their budgets and fundraising goals underwrite select tuition waivers that still allow for students to enjoy an experience not available to most kids. The growing gulf between students who can afford to attend these schools and the broader student population is evident and growing.
One of the keys to the creation of a fully regenerative future is education. As I think about the debate outlined above, it seems like it would have been a much more meaningful discussion would have been to focus on the stark inequity of an elite educational system that is not at all inclusive and is in fact a major contributor to the financial disparities that cripple our economy and prevent vast portions of our community to participate in a shared economy.
In full disclosure, my wife and I elected to have our daughter attend one of these schools during her teen years. However, at the time, the student population in attendance was much more representative of a diverse community and the cost of schooling much less. Still, our decision required a deep financial sacrifice and also a dedication to service in support of the school community, even though we did not have the means to do very much. As a family, we participated directly in an effort to expand the school’s outreach and embraced the success of each member of the school family, staff and students alike. My daughter flourished and I rose to a leadership position. When we left, I implored the school to build the financial resources that would extend the legacy of an inclusive culture and to expand their impact to students of potential from every background. Unfortunately, the disparities of an unequal educational system feel more obvious than ever and the barriers to most students almost insurmountable.
Our educational system is at an important crossroads and must find a way to be accessible to all. The quality of education available to students of all abilities will determine the future of our society, the sustainability of our economy, and our ability to address our most pressing challenges. Knowledge is opportunity and the ability to gain knowledge and skill is the gateway to community prosperity and shared financial success. Building a regenerative finance system, an inclusive economy and secure, healthy communities is dependent on an educational system that provides the highest degree of opportunity to those most in need.
A regenerative educational system is a prerequisite to the creation of a long-term regenerative financial system. The debate here should not be about the form of the educational system, or its cost. The challenge is to shift our discussion from the insensitivity of the content of education to the disparity within an educational institution that accepts inequality, reinforced through financial barriers that guarantee that a significant portion of our society will be denied access to learning or relegated to programs that will not serve student potential.
We should seek to educate 100% of our society, to the best of their abilities and at a level that provides each person the best opportunity for success. Regenerate and transform our educational ecosystem and we will establish the basis for a transformed economic and financial system. The question then becomes, how can this be accomplished?
Some of the answers may be embedded in our collective experience managing the challenges of the pandemic. With segments of our society subjected to involuntary isolation to preserve safety and prevent the further consequences of a rapidly spreading pathogen, product and service providers were forced to shift their market delivery from a location-based model to an access-based model. Customers could not get to the product; the product had to go to the customer.
Although thrust upon us without preparation and the necessary infrastructure to promote success, remote learning through virtual classrooms became necessary and suddenly removed issues of physical access for students. In fact, innovators like Khan Academy and Coursera have been delivering remote learning for some time and delivering on the promise of a “World Class Education for Free”.
Technology has evolved from a tool to support education (calculators) to a global portal of information that should be available everywhere. Institutions of higher education and elite centers of primary and secondary education could extend their abilities and content to a world not limited by physical distance or constrained by the expense of a system that can only impact a small number of students at any time.
Imagine a learning system where content of the highest caliber can be delivered nationally or globally, augmented by setting-based collaboration where educators and students engage in deepened discussions, practical exercises or exploratory extensions of applications where true learning occurs. Community-based access, support and applied learning could be the basis for both a regenerative system of learning, and then, extended into widely available platforms of regenerative leadership, finance and community prosperity.