Canada conquers curriculum

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Canada conquers curriculum

Education: Canada speaks to the crowd about schools in the U.S.
Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Education: Canada speaks to the crowd about schools in the U.S. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Education: Canada speaks to the crowd about schools in the U.S. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Education: Canada speaks to the crowd about schools in the U.S. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

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Canada: Geoffrey Canada speaks to the SLU community about his work in urban education Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Canada: Geoffrey Canada speaks to the SLU community about his work in urban education
Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Education reform leader speaks on the school system

The nation’s top leader in the education reform movement, Dr. Geoffrey Canada, came to Saint Louis University’s campus to speak on his experiences on Monday, Sept. 22 in the Center for Global Citizenship. Brought to campus by the Great Issues Committee, Canada was the first speaker hosted this academic year by the organization, which seeks to highlight important issues in today’s society by inviting speakers to engage with the campus community through their innovative dialogue.

Canada is the founder of the Harlem Children’s Zone, an organization that provides educational services and support for students from the time they are born until they graduate college. Founding the organization in 1990, Canada recently stepped down as CEO and president of the Harlem Children’s Zone in July of 2014.

Although his work in an executive position for the organization has come to an end, Canada is still actively engaged in the communities he works with and has influenced the entire nation through his books, Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America, and Reaching Up For Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America, and his role in the documentary, Waiting for Superman. In addition, Canada has appeared on news and entertainment shows such as Oprah and 60 Minutes, as well as speaking of his efforts in the education reform movement with President Obama.

By coming to SLU’s campus, Canada hoped to spread his message of education reform and how to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks, to a student body that produces skillful and competitive members of society post-graduation. “The students that I work with will not be able to compete with the students here because of the education standards between the two communities. I came here both for humanistic reasons and because our democracy will not last if young people do not understand there are those suffering in desperation out there. All of us will suffer.”

Canada has dedicated his life’s work to providing alternative education and reforming the system. After graduating from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Canada set out determined to find answers to the crises he observed occurring on the streets of Harlem, NY. With drugs overrunning the community and the population fleeing the city, those who remained found themselves caught in a cycle of poverty, illegal activity, and with no access to quality education. The city had become desolate and all hope for the citizens was lost. By observing the situation around him, Canada questioned the pattern of poverty itself and traced its roots back to a failing school system; students who were attending schools in Harlem were incapable of rising above their current situations because the educators themselves were not providing a quality curriculum.

“Education is like the Hurricane Katrina of social services; everyone is screaming for help, but nobody is coming. Children’s lives have been destroyed by the current failing education system,” Canada said during his presentation.

Canada, coming from a low-income, inner-city background himself, began to challenge the education system and contribute his own ideas to benefit the population he was observing. “We have a constitutional right to an education. But it’s hard to save kids when the community is going to hell,” he said. He began working with schools and developing his own methods of providing education for the thousands of students in the Harlem area.

Canada transformed the educational system in Harlem by developing the Harlem Children’s Zone, which incorporates alternative forms of teaching students. After his success with the group, Harlem started discussing methods nationally. “Our next step [in the education reform movement] is to blend what we are learning about the students and their backgrounds and taking a comprehensive approach to educating them. We need to care not just about their family situations, but also about their mental and physical health. The kids need to get all of their needs met, regardless of whether or not they can afford it.”

Throughout his speech, Canada shared his beliefs on ways to change the current system that seems branded into society. He proposed encouraging minor reforms within schools, such as taking the additional time to investigate why a student is struggling in school and aiding him or her in improving. He discussed why both charter and public schools are important to the communities in which they serve, as public schools are traditional and within the immediate vicinity of a child, whereas charter schools are innovative and creative. He encouraged paying productive teachers a higher salary than those who produce lower success rates. He also advocated for holding both educators and administrators accountable for the quality of education they are providing to students.

In concluding his speech, Canada recited a poem he wrote, entitled “Don’t Blame Me.” The poem incorporated all elements of the education system, from the relationship between child and mother, to the moment when the child, failed by the system, is incarcerated and thrown into the prison system. “I believe in teaching a student that life is not straight down, and it is not straight up. But you’re stronger than the toughest thing you’ll ever face.”

Education: Canada speaks to the crowd about schools in the U.S. Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor

Education: Canada speaks to the crowd about schools in the U.S.
Ryan Quinn / Photo Editor