Tuesday, November 6, 2012, the United States of America re-elected President Barack Obama for a historic second term. All eyes watched as the President took a slow, but sure lead over Republican nominee Mitt Romney in what some assumed would be a close race. During the days leading up to the election, President Obama made it very clear that the choice ahead for voters was not one of party affiliation, but one of two fundamental differences in strategy for moving forward. Now that the country has spoken and chosen the President, we are assured that the nation’s focus on “nation building” through continued investments in education won’t be lost, but my concern is that our failure to celebrate what is working and to learn from it makes the journey more challenging and a bit dispiriting.
On November 8, Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, served as keynote speaker during the “Dispelling the Myth” Awards at the 2012 Education Trust Conference in Washington D.C.. The event annually celebrates three public schools that are making huge strides in narrowing the achievement gap for low-income and minority students. He championed these schools for “showing that all children can learn—and that great schools prepare children for college and careers no matter their zip code, skin color, or their parent’s bank account, and national origin. He also said, “The truth is we don’t do nearly enough to celebrate success in education.”
While he went on to discuss No Child Left Behind’s, failures and its future, it was this sentence about our failure to celebrate what’s working that caused me to pay closer attention. At that moment I looked around the room to see there was no media present. No one to showcase and inform us that these public schools are succeeding at educating our children. The winning schools should be profiled on every national news program and print publication because they represent an incredible case study for how people are working together to create a culture in these schools that gets the hard results we all care about. It’s as if this conversation is only important to those of us who work within education or when Education Nation rolls around. THIS bothers me. It’s disheartening to know that the solution is right in front of us, but it’s not sensational and thus uninteresting.
What we celebrate signals what we care about. Where education is concerned, we’re overlooking the opportunity to motivate greater success when we’re silent about the small wins along the way. We have to celebrate the first downs and the touchdowns. And here’s the thing: we don’t need policymakers to give us permission to do this, but we do need the media’s help. We have to take action to indicate that we want to know about things like this and this means we have to let them know. Shout from the rooftops. Call your local and national media outlets. Make sure you’re heard. Success breeds success.
I’m elated about President Obama’s re-election and happy to see that his designees are at least aware of the fact that there isn’t enough focus on celebrating and recognizing success; but, beyond highlighting this fact in his remarks, what is Arne doing about it?
Etienne R. LeGrand is president and co-founder of the W.E.B. Du Bois Society