Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Betting the Millennium

Yesterday I spent the day at the Microsoft offices in Chevy Chase, MD for a unique meeting between Microsoft bigwigs, a small federal agency and a handful of teachers and students from around the country.

There are 100 million youth ages 3 to 24 in the United States. The Millennial Generation, as they have been tagged, has a 31% minority population that makes them more diverse than the current U.S. population of adults aged 25 and older.

So yeah, Microsoft is interested in these folks! But not necessarily the way you think. Yesterday's meeting was to formally announce Microsoft's START program - a service-learning program focused on technology.

Some of you might be aware of my first professional love - service-learning. Service-learning is an educational pedagogy that integrates service projects with classroom learning. It engages students in the educational process, using what they learn in the classroom to solve real-life problems. In short, it makes the often obscure and repetitive classroom lessons relevant to the student. If implemented correctly, this pedagogy places students in the community in complex service projects that provide them opportunities to put the classroom knowledge to reality - preparing tax forms for elders, providing computer engineering assistance to non-profits, or mentoring ESL students to prepare them for proficiency testing.

It is nothing short of magical to listen to students talk about what it means to be a student in a school that practices service-learning. They get IT. They get what it means to be depended upon, to accomplish something and the reward is in the accomplishment. They can see the future and their place in it.

Yesterday I met five kid from South Philly, Tupelo, Missisippi, Fairfax, VA and New York City's Lower East Side. I have nineteen years of education, travelled extensively, had access to extraordinary resources and people and I was humbled.

We spend a lot of time caressing our youth as they travel the "right" education path - extracurricular activities, sports, unique experiences abroad, internships - it is a formula parents know well. In the meantime, there is another education path equally well travelled - weekends spent refurbishing subsidized housing, evenings spent teaching newly immigrated families how to use a computer, apprenticeships - it is a formula parents should get to know better.

There are 100 million members of the rising generation. There are 100 million opportunities to develop a thoughtful, engaged and prepared citizenry. The global tomorrow is a very different playing field than that to which we have become accustomed. We must replace entitlement with ingenuity and innovation. We must readjust our appraisal of the best and the brightest.

If yesterday is any indication of tomorrow, I am reminded of the old adage "You cannot judge a book by it's cover."


Nautical is up for spring and summer! A simple way to make it happen - a tee from Old Navy at a steal!! (Pick the blue/white stripe.)

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