Star of “Waiting For Superman” Talks Education at Tate Lecture

March 30, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

By Meghan Garlich
mgarlich@smu.edu

Students and members of the Dallas community were warned about the severity of America’s education crisis at the SMU Tate Lecture Series Tuesday night.

The audience filled McFarlin Auditorium eager to hear Geoffrey Canada, the president of the Harlem Children’s Zone and the star of the documentary, “Waiting For Superman”, and Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education, discuss the future of education.

“I’m expecting to see how we’re going to address the future and how the kids in school can learn to make our country a better place,” said SMU student Robert Kupchynsky before the event.

(PHOTO COURTESY CLAYTON T. SMITH/ SMU)

After thanking the event sponsor, Omni Hotels, SMU President Gerald Turner introduced Canada, Spelling and the debate moderator, Keven Ann Willey.

The energized crowd fell silent as Willey asked Spellings to discuss the civil rights issue in America regarding education.

“The United States is losing its global competitiveness,” said Spellings, who explained that our strength as a nation starts with education for everyone, not just those who are wealthy.

Canada agreed the country no longer has its competitive edge and that more children need to graduate.

“I don’t care if you’re poor, black or Latino,” said Canada. “You need an education.”

The formerly quiet audience erupted in applause to Canada’s enthusiasm toward promoting education in America.

Willer then asked the speakers about the first step toward improvement in schools.

Spellings explained that schools need to monitor teacher performance throughout the year.

“We now have sophisticated data systems that can monitor a child’s progress,” said Spellings. “Building the right infrastructure and getting talented professionals are what make a great school.”

Canada cautioned that building an effective infrastructure is not an easy task.

“Everyday you’re going to have to be fixing and changing things,” said Canada. “If you’re not prepared to do this, nothing is going to happen.”

Murmurs of agreement echoed throughout the crowd and both speakers advised the audience to play a role in bettering America’s education systems.

“If you’re serious, it’s going to cost you,” Canada said, in reference to changing education in the Dallas Community. “The kids are in trouble.”

When a member of the audience asked how to get involved, Spellings encouraged the listeners to get involved with organizations, such as becoming a mentor for a child.

“Get smart about what the heck is going on,” added Spellings. “You can save a life.”

At the end of the interactive discussion, audience members were shocked about the education crisis at hand.

“I had no idea this was such an issue,” said SMU junior Mary Katherine Rathmell. “The lecture was very informative and we definitely need to become more innovative in our school programs.”

Kupchynsky was also convinced that changes need to be made, or else, as both speakers pointed out, the country will continue to lose its competitive edge.

“We would be mad if half of the items we use everyday didn’t work,” said Kupchynsky. “But as a whole we don’t care about half of our students failing.”

Education Experts Speak At Tate Student Forum

March 30, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Lara Mirgorod
lmirgorod@smu.edu

Margaret Spellings, former U.S. Secretary of Education and Geoffrey Canada, founder and CEO of The Harlem Children’s Zone spoke to SMU students during Tate Lecture Series Student Forum on March 29.

The question and answer session took place at 4:30 p.m. in the Hughes-Trigg Ballroom and was moderated by Keven Willey of The Dallas Morning News. Brad Cheves, vice president of Development and External Affairs, introduced Spellings and Canada to the audience.

The questions centered on Spellings’ and Canada’s views on education in America and how it could be improved were asked by SMU students and high school students around the Dallas community.

Canada and Spellings were pleased by the questions asked by the students.

“If these questions continue I am going to think that you are spending too much money on education,” Canada said.

He explained that he holds adults accountable for the students who do not perform well in their studies.

Spellings said the problem with American schools is that children think it is okay to pass their classes rather than try to push to the best of their ability to make good grades.

America is too comfortable with mediocre standards. Spellings said that only 50 percent of American students are graduating from high school.

High school student Alex Clark asked, “What advice would you give an undergraduate high school student who is following your footsteps?”

Canada said it is important to finish high school, get a degree in college and start educating children where they are challenged.

“We have to start with kids that are young and make sure they graduate high school, and that they get into a college,” Canada said.

Spellings said that America needs more educational entrepreneurs.

“It is really about leadership. There has to be someone who is really thinking about the kids and their talent,” Canada said. “We need to think in a way where we are asking ourselves, are we investing in a way to make sure that our children are working to the best of their ability?”

Canada and Spellings both agreed that failure in America is accepted, and it pulls expectations down for children.

An SMU student asked, “What solutions do you see for the recent problems in our educational system?”

Spellings said that America needs to produce more with much less.

“Does every person in this room wish and want to spend more money on education? How well are we doing at what price? We have very little data in our system,” Spellings said.

Canada said that educators need to figure out what they need to do in order to educate their kids.

“We as educators need to fight for what we believe in,” he said.

SMU student Zara Khan asked Canada what his original path was and if he always knew he wanted to be a part of The Harlem Children’s Zone.

“I decided I wanted to work with children at a young age in New York when I graduated,” she said.

Canada said that he always knew he wanted to be in the educating business. He started The Harlem Zone 12 years ago, an organization in New York City that involves increasing high school and college graduation rates among students in Harlem.

He said that before The Harlem Zone existed, he was at the same organization with a different name that was run by another man.

“I thought that my colleagues and myself were doing a good job of teaching, but then I realized that that we were not making a difference in children’s education. It wasn’t that we were not working hard, but we were not ending children’s poverty or helping children who could not afford to receive an education,” Canada said.

“We tend to not change what we are doing because we hope that what we are doing we eventually make a difference, but it wasn’t,” he said.

Sarah Miller, another SMU student, said she was interested to know what both Spellings and Canada’s values in teachers were.

Canada said that he has seen teachers who are real superstars, and that teachers were prepared and believed that the children could learn.

If kids are not learning, Canada said that teachers then need to look underneath the surface in order to view the true problem.

“I am looking for teachers who believe it is their fault if the children are not learning. I don’t want teachers that give up and who don’t think it’s their fault if children don’t do their homework. I want teachers who get to the root of the problem for the children.”

Spellings said that educators need to start thinking about what their kids need.