2017 Perspectives from the Field, Part III
Throughout the 2017 seminar year, the LNJ staff will ask two class members to reflect on their experiences following the monthly two-day seminars. The perspectives will change each month to include a wide spectrum of view points and expertise.
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Lead NJ 2017 Education Seminar
By: Elizabeth L. Carter
The seminar on public education sparked real emotions and thoughtful discussions among the group. As we got a glimpse of Camden and the various efforts at its revival, everyone seemed genuinely concerned with Camden’s faith. During this glimpse, we saw a colossal of a factory on the edge of the Delaware River; a state-of-the art charter public school; and a homegrown traditional public school. Each of these sites touted itself as the thing that will be the reason for Camden’s rebirth: a factory with the potential to hire hundreds of Camden residents; a program enhanced charter school with the means to shape the minds of Camden’s youth from birth to college; and a community-grounded traditional public school with the heart to become intimately involved with the day-to-day needs of the residents of Camden. Nonetheless, I remained unimpressed.
I found the industrial factory approach to urban development by Camden to be archaic and obsolete. I was even more disappointed to learn that the City of Camden granted this factory more than three hundred million dollars ($300,000,000) in tax-payers dollars as an incentive to conduct business there. This fact was even more troubling when I came to learn that the City did not even require this factory to hire Camden residents in exchange for this unscrupulous tax abatement. In fact, only about twenty-two Camden residents of the over three hundred hires were employed at the factory and most of these only required minimum skills. The factory further proved to be insufficient for birthing Camden’s revival where it sought to teach local high school students a trade without providing these same students with a realistic opportunity at decent employment.
Although the schools placed a greater emphasis on the residents of Camden than the factory, they too proved to be insufficient for the revival of Camden. Even with all of their innovations and new approaches to education, these schools failed to show what the purpose of education is and whether this purpose satisfies the needs of the Camden youth. Without this understanding, the varying approaches to education and Camden’s revival will prove to be unsuccessful.
Dr. Claudine Keenan, author of “The Long Arc of Public Education: Purpose and Product” eloquently explained the historical purpose of education. She highlighted the fact that public education has always had its authority and roots in the Commerce Clause. Thus, the purpose of public education in America is to further commerce, i.e. trade, business, the economy. This makes total sense, especially where the focus in both of the schools were to educate the youth to prepare them for either a trade or higher education—which will eventually lead to a professional career that will drive the economy. However, the question still remains: does this economical purpose of education truly satisfy the needs of Camden youth? What about their social and ecological needs? What about meaningful work? Are we putting the needs of the people behind the needs of the nation’s economy? I believe so.