The first breakout session that I attended at the Urban Next Summit was about Opportunity as defined by The US Initiative.
“We can develop all of our talents and put them to all to work”
Bill Souders, a senior director with Cisco, led the session and he began by posing a list of questions to start the collective brainstorm. The focus of these questions was about creating a learning society:
– Can we make learning always “on” and available?
– Can the urban environment be used to communicate the value of learning or, even better, actually advance learning?
– What experiences contribute to meaningful learning and how can more of them be created naturally as part of everyday life?
– Can alternative learning experiences (or experiential learning) be credentialed in ways that employers value? What new partnerships are necessary?
– What experiences do employers value other than college degrees?
– How can low-skilled, low-income people make rapid progress in learning and skill development?
Lots of ideas came out of these questions including discussion about how to give valued credentials for experience (i.e. how to accumulate knowledge and put work experience on par with granted degrees), the usefulness of individual development plans, the democratization of education (can a community own learning?), how to improve the quality of education in cities (the US public school system is definitely hurting, as it is in many places in Canada), and how to make our systems of learning more adaptive and resilient (e.g. building connections between work, education, and community to encourage a broad spectrum of learning).
A Pittsburg representative, I believe William Peduto, noted a good example of this connection between work and education through that city’s Green City initiative. As I understood it, there was targeted education for engineers and builders by members of the environmental education institutes in the city. Workers were taught how to install new green building technologies allowing them to both increase their experience and skills, as well as increase in their overall wages to reflect this new training.
There was also discussion about how cities increase the overall mass of learning and opportunity for engagement in communities simply due to their density. Some of the most interesting parts of our discussion however, centered around the idea of “everyone a teacher, everyone a learner”, the importance of initiative in creating an engaging learning system, and how technology may make learning about the world around us more integrated in our every day life.
Jaime Snyder, Co-Founder of the Buckminster Fuller Institute, brought up the importance of fostering initiative in people to become engaged and work towards solving problems. He noted that there is a lot of learning and self-education that comes from taking initiative but that we have a tendency to discourage or at least not reward initiative, particularly in youth. Prescott Reavis, an architect from Oakland, followed this by talking about his work with youth and how he tries to encourage them to see themselves as educators and understand the importance of passing on information to others. I seconded his thoughts with my experience organizing Jane’s Walk, and the important dialogue and learning that occurs when citizens are seen as experts in their community. We agreed that there is a lot of potential to empower citizens and increase their ability to take initiative in these situations.
Michel St. Pierre, an architect from San Francisco and native Quebecer, also sparked some discussion on how we may achieve what the Carnegie library systems did for learning in this century. Carnegie’s libraries were characterized by having materials open to be searched by the public (as opposed to having the librarian search for it for you), lots of citizen interaction with librarians, as well as free access to resources for all. A new vision of this model may be a rebirth of libraries incorporated in our communities as strong integrating facilities, with open access to innovative methods of communication, but also with tools, information, and programming that fosters a strong public life. In this way, we may achieve more public engagement and allow everyone to incorporate learning into many different aspects of their lives – in essence “being able to develop all of their talent”.
Overall our discussion about Opportunity was diverse, however it may have been at the expense of being focused on developing and really fleshing out a few strong ideas to meet this particular ambition. Most groups had this challenge with their first session – we all needed a bit of warming up to really get focused. However, these discussions did help to identify some barriers that may currently exist to creating “a learning society” and how we may overcome them.
Next up, I will present some thoughts that came out of our Community breakout session.