Across the street from Yale’s ivy-league campus, there is a single story white brick building that was once an auto machinist storage area. The building sits in sharp contrast to the tall, austere stone structures that house the scholars of one of America’s most acclaimed institutions of higher education. Still, the teaching and learning that happen day-by-day across the street from Yale may ultimately shape the landscape of America more profoundly than what emerges from Yale itself. Each month, nearly six hundred boys and girls walk into the little building on the corner for free tutoring from the volunteers at New Haven Reads. My daughter Audrey has worked there for the past year, coordinating tutors and scheduling sessions for the kids of the inner city. Audrey works to find tutors willing to bring kids off of a waiting list which is hundreds of names long—a list of kids who want to learn to read but have no one to teach them, right across the street from Yale University.
I have never really thought about knowledge as power, or education as the banner of an exclusive club. I have always believed that anyone can learn, and that a free, high quality public education was both the right and responsibility of every American child. Yet, many kids in New Haven are starved of literacy, just across the street from the students and professors at Yale. That is difficult for me to reconcile.
I find myself wondering about the food that we are feeding our own chubby school children, the scholars of Spirit Lake. It seems that eating a steady diet of math and English, science, social studies and electives will feed the intellectual mind quite well—but there are other nutrients that I am realizing are just as important. Spirit Lake boasts, “All kids will learn and become responsible citizens.” How do we guarantee that?
The Universal Constructs of the Iowa Core are a beginning. Identified by the Department of Education as essential to 21st century citizenry, these constructs may indeed be the missing ingredient in the American education recipe. The Core plus the Constructs. An ACT score and much more. We neglect at our great peril the critical thinking, complex communication, creativity and collaboration that will build essential bridges between those who have and those who haven’t in today’s educational landscape. Perhaps we might even add another “c” word to our list: compassion.
As Audrey and I walked away from New Haven Reads, we bumped into a Yale undergraduate student, who dedicates hours each week to the New Haven Reads program. Audrey introduced me to Dan, saying “He tutors five kids each week.” Dan corrected her, “Eight, actually.”
There is hope. Great hope.