Friday, February 3, 2012

Cities: a solution for our planet and our students

I was reading some blog posts from a few educators I follow on Twitter this evening. They had attended the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest Biannual Conference in Houston, Texas and were reporting back on a few of the keynote speakers, one of which was Pat Bassett, President of NAIS. Much of his talk focused on the need for more intentional instruction by educators on the well known 21st Century C’s: character, creativity and cooperation. Pat also focused on a lesser know C that I found more intriguing. Let me tell you why.

Basset mentioned a need to focus on cosmopolitanism. What he is referring to is bringing children into a world that is smaller due to our interconnectedness. Cosmopolitan reminds me of another C word: city. I have always felt schools should be preparing students to live in cities. Why? Because many if not most of the great universities and colleges are in cities, and so are the great industries and talent centers, from tech to finance, law to government. Perhaps most importantly, more and more research is showing if we are going to survive as a planet, prevent sprawl,and conserve resources, one solution is to embrace global urbanization.

I dug a little deeper into this idea and found a great piece on Huffington Post by Katherine Krauss, a senior at Greenhills School - an independent school in Ann Arbor, Mich. She penned a compelling argument that global migration toward cities means good things for the environment. She pointed out, “less people sprawled out in suburbs means less burning of fossil fuels from personal cars and more land given back to the natural ecosystems of the region.” She didn’t stop there. Krauss took it a step further and stated “cities are the centers of idea exchange. Because the world's nations are so highly interconnected in today's society, collaboration is becoming more and more critical to the maintaining of a global order and peace; and because the world has never seen anything like this level of interconnectedness before, it is critical that experts gather to exchange ideas about how to best advance in their field.”

Katherine is right. Cities have always been at the center of thinking and creativity. They have been focal points of commerce and trade, artistry and social movements, and because cities often have strong economies, they attract millions looking for work or intellectual inspiration.

So why is this important? Because most students graduating in this era, will be living and working in a city. They will need to understand how to live, thrive and give back in an urban environment in the evolving 21st century. And the city very well may be in another country. The city could be New York, Denver, or San Francisco. Maybe Lima, San Paulo or Buenos Aires. Could be Singapore, Hong Kong or Chengdu. Possibly even Lagos, Dakar or Narobi. How exciting is that?

Very exciting, because cities are exciting. They are full of hope, can-do-attitudes and people who are looking to make things happen. Who hasn’t been excited by a visit to NYC? Is there a more exciting place in the world? As someone who lived in New York, San Francisco and Prague too, I experienced this fist hand. The move back to urban living might be the solution for so many of the global ills we face today and if our students study hard and have a little luck, they too will find themselves in a city, living, connecting and thriving well into the 21st Century.