In 2011, the Pathways to Prosperity Project published an influential white paper in concert with the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“This important and timely report offers a compelling assessment of a growing skills gap
threatening young people’s ability to achieve the American Dream. It stands as a sobering call to action, offering effective ideas for making American education an engine for opportunity once again.”
-Paul Grogan, President and CEO, The Boston Foundation
I printed off a copy and the dog-eared pages and notes stayed with me for years. In my three year tenure as a Career & Technical Education (CTE) administrator, I took a deep dive into effective strategies for modern Career Pathway programs and the myriad of Perkins funding streams. I discovered regions of the country where visionary leaders responded directly to prominent research in the field.
Follow the Leaders
After visiting Capital Region PTECH, in Albany, New York, I was particularly excited by students who described overcoming socio-economic barriers, completing Associate of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering and Biotechnology and their excitement for high paying jobs in their region. Founding Principal Rashid Ferrod Davis has initiated a state wide PTECH model that is helping New York break down some of the constraints the system perpetuates on aspiring students. Unfortunately, my biggest takeaway was how and why opportunities to develop programs like PTECH were being overlooked in southern Vermont. The absence of a formative advisory structure and clear leadership model played a prominent role in the confusion. Relentless scheduling and transportation problems. The comingling of funds towards inequitable distribution. Extremely low participation numbers in work-based learning programs. Fragmented and erroneous data collection. A CTE funding model that facilitates a general absence of stakeholders, community involvement and participatory decision-making and the cascading impact that has on other state agencies, the competition for unclaimed space and resulting legislative practices.
As an advocate for school reform, I have also been particularly impacted by Aimee Wyatt and her work with the Nashville Public Schools. Career Readiness for all is more than just a rallying cry. Under Aimee’s leadership, The Academies of Nashville restructured all the city's high schools to a four year Career Pathway model for all students that starts with the Freshman Academy and You Science aptitude assessment. 35 academies converging on 16 career clusters transformed K-12 learning that previously centered on just ending up in high school. I had the opportunity to work with Aimme during a CTE consultation in southern Vermont. While her expertise failed to disrupt the entrenched practices of education in Brattleboro, I came to strongly endorse the four year secondary Career Pathway model as a way forward for all students. It promotes what I know most teachers show up each day to accomplish and the common bond that comes from helping young people transform their lives. I think this is a very important point because the disconnect between administrative structures, leadership and school boards to the teachers that greet the students each day, where they are at, in the classroom, has become even more pronounced during the pandemic.
Caught in a Pickle
Today, my personal printed copy of Tasting the Pickle: Ten Flavors of the meta-crisis and the appetite for a new civilization, authored by Jonathan Rowson of Perspectiva, lies in a similar condition to the Pathways to Prosperity Project pdf as I look over to my conference table, by the rocker, next to my office window.
“The world is in a pickle, and, daunting though it is, we need to learn how to taste it. Tasting the pickle well requires, in the spirit of Vivekananda, finding joy and releasing energy through the right kinds of discrimination.”
Quite a ten year window. It seems like whenever I try to wrap my head around something, the intensity of the problem only grows.
Enter Sounding Line
When I started Sounding Line in the throes of the pandemic, I had reached the point where authoring my response to the Pathways to Prosperity Project through professional experiences and related projects felt like throwing myself against a brick wall. During that ten year stretch, I made many transitions myself: from working for the State of Vermont as a high school transition counselor to Career Services at a college that costs $72,000 per year to public school administration in a CTE setting. I went into my archives to find a few slides of the presentations I made throughout that decade as I formulated my thoughts and built my platform.
If I were to identify a bookend for that ten year period of my life it would be an article I read in Slate in December of 2020 entitled Shooting Drills Have Gone Virtual. The article described students doing active shooter/school lock down drills while at home performing remote learning during a pandemic. Yes, you read that correctly. Lock down drills are a more fundamental part of a school curriculum than Career Development. 95% of American public schools perform them. When confronting a system that almost seems immune to change, each day is a missed opportunity and the challenges appear even more daunting.
“We appear to be unable to adapt to the challenges of our time because our goals (e.g. getting a job; increasing national GDP), our methods (e.g. teaching to test) and our metrics (e.g. school admission results) are perpetuating ways of being and living that are destructive in aggregate.”
Rowson goes on to pose five questions that may help us go beyond school shooter drills, harassment and bullying investigations and assistant directors walking around with walkie talkies guarding the holes in the fence.
Intelligibility – what’s going on, and how do we know?
Capability – do we have what it takes to do what we need to do?
Legitimacy – who gets to say what we should be doing and why?
Meaning – what ultimately matters and how do we live accordingly?
Imagination – what does a viable future look and feel like?
Somehow versus Something
Sounding Line is my expression of “somehow” versus “something”. The only way forward is to tell your own story and forge your own authentic path toward purpose. Ultimately, we need to form bonds to solve problems. The pandemic has ushered us into new territory. We are all in the same boat - sometimes it feels crowded and other times lonely. The direct experience may be radically different depending on where you live but the point is - I can’t be a healthy me without a healthy you. Whether we like it or not we need to be world centric versus ethnocentric. It’s not about trying to create a new hierarchy with our own views on top. It’s time to embrace understanding how we are all connected and that we share a common fate.
Sounding Line partners with OneLifeTools because narrative methods and storytelling align with a long history of how human beings cope with stress, inequity and crisis. By determining “what personal attributes of an individual, which when strengthened, will meaningfully contribute to that individual's career”, we tap into emergence and recognize the “volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity” of the moment. For more on Psychological Capital and personal growth, visit Franklin & Fellers outcome study here.
Whether you are an activist in central Pennsylvania fighting for accountability in a tradition of red-lined school districts and false promises or the parent of a student, in a gated neighborhood, too fearful to look beyond the race to nowhere and the brutal game of highly selective college admissions, we are at a point where everyone needs the same thing. Our stories take us there.
Drop a Sounding Line