Author Archives: Bill Kent

Lessons from the King

Submitted by:  Willie (Bill) Kent Jr., President & CEO of The Biome School

In 1970, arguably one of Flip Wilson’s most popular characters, Geraldine Jones, popularized the catchphrase, “The devil made me do it!” This catchphrase was often the character’s excuse for transgressions. Reflecting on some behaviors witnessed in today’s arenas of public debate, we have allowed our passions to lead us down a narrow and isolated path of insults, dishonesty, anger, and propaganda. This debased behavior seems evident in all areas of public discourse, including that of public education.

History often provides a void, a space calling for moral leadership, courage, and love. During the mid-1950s history created such a void and educated, passionate, and principled leaders like Dr. King and others stepped into the breach. Dr. King was not the only leader of his time to challenge America to, “Be true to what you said on paper,” however, the articulation of his message, mastery of history, and education allowed him to stand prominently and answer the call to service.

Today, history has created another void and is calling for those who have the moral leadership, courage, and love to pursue an equitable and fair educational system in America. The needs of our children require that we “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” and move towards a society in which all children, especially those from underserved communities, have the opportunity to build “Intelligence plus character.” According to Dr. King, “that is the goal of true education.”

In America, and more specifically, in Missouri, we cannot realize this vision for our children through lawsuits over public funding and dishonest feuds between Charter Public Schools and Traditional Public Schools. As a community, we should join forces on the steps and in the halls of the Missouri Capitol building to demand that our children and equity in education become priorities not only in words but also in policy and funding.

We all support child well-being; we all want children to succeed – no matter their zip code. Let us step into this moment of history and educate generations of children who “think logically and scientifically.” Our commitment to teaching children to protest should not outpace our calling to develop an educated and literate community. History is calling for leaders who will reignite the vestiges of “the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit” with “objective and unbiased truths.” Properly educated, our children can answer this call.

Geraldine’s excuse that “The devil made me do it” is no longer sufficient to explain away our bad behavior in the public square. Dr. King taught us that “If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, ‘brethren!’ Be careful, teachers!”

Dr. King elevated his conscious and thinking to create an inclusive and loving vision for America. Let us remember that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Fifty years after his assassination, we must remember the lessons that he taught us; we must not forget how he elevated his thinking and conscious. For the sake of our children, isn’t it time that we catch up?

Building the Biome

I am excited to report that we are nearing the official launch of The Biome.  One of the major tasks in preparing to receive our inaugural group of learners is the upgrade to our facilities. Renovation of Youth Learning Center, home of The Biome, began on May 26.  The Phase 1 Facility Renovations will accomplish the following goals:

  • Increase the safety of our learning environment by separating the main entry from the academic space
  • Create two new and flexible learning spaces to inspire exploration and creativity
  • Increase the flexibility of our administrative spaces

PHOTO UPDATES:

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School can be More!

I am the Founding President & CEO of The Biome, but more than that, I am a former student of an academic program that, by virtue of its design, stood no chance of meeting my needs as a learner. My journey to lead Youth Learning Center’s efforts to open The Biome did not start 11 years ago at the organization’s founding. My genesis began a few decades prior, in a local public school in St. Louis, Missouri.

For dramatic effect, let’s imagine that my fourth-grade learner profile was as follows:

Bill is a fourth-grade student who has special interests and abilities (every child’s profile should begin with this opening line). He seems to enjoy learning through hands-on activities and has a particular interest in computer science, experiments, insects, and writing. Bill also appears to be interested in fishing and history!

During my fourth-grade year, I was appointed to the project team tasked with building an enormous paper mache replica of Valley Forge. This assignment represented a perfect fit for a student with my profile. We were excused from our regular reading period to take in the project that would be displayed during a school assembly. Our supplies consisted of an enormous cardboard base, plenty of flour, water, newspaper, and paint.

It would have been great if my selection were guided by a careful examination of my interest and needs as a learner. I suspect that my appointment to the project team was a result of my designation as one of the “smart kids” in the building. I would like to recount numerous appointments to projects during my elementary years but sadly, I cannot.

I can, however, recount numerous learning opportunities that were missed as I sat quietly in my seat and received a reward for compliance.

I believe that school can be more than textbooks, assigned seating, and lectures. School should be a ‘living lab’ where best practices and innovation converge to meet the needs of students. Launching The Biome provides me with an opportunity to create the educational ecosystem that was unavailable to me and hundreds of my peers. Every child has unique gifts and talents. Our (parents, educators and community) goal is to help children identify their uniqueness and provide authentic and enriching experiences designed to aid their growth as learners.

According to a 2014 Washington Post article, in 2012, the U.S. high school graduation rate peaked at 80 percent. Nationally, Blacks and Hispanics graduated at rates of 69 percent and 73 percent respectively.[1] These statistics do not address the disparity in achievement standards and college or career readiness, but we will save that discussion for a future post. At best, a 20 percent national dropout rate is alarming. The percentage dropout rate represents approximately 718,000 children.1 Continuing with our current model of education makes sense if the goal is to achieve relatively modest results. Opting for radical changes in educational outcomes requires that we embrace radical changes in our educational model. Through the adoption or creation of innovative policy and practice, we can turn our nation’s academic fortunes.

At The Biome, we are committed to sound practice, innovation and measuring the results of our children’s performance and our academic model. The Biome represents another step in a growing belief that schools can and should be designed for all of our children.

By the way, we were not allowed to finish the paper mache project.


 

[1] Layton, L. (2014, April 28). National high school graduation rates at historic high, but disparities still exist. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_203.10.asp