Nonprofit Educators with Ideas at the Aspen Ideas Festival

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July 1, 2011; Source: genConnect | Who were the nonprofit educators with ideas innovative and creative enough to warrant roles at the Aspen Ideas Festival? GenConnect interviewed several “pioneers” at the Festival.

One such educator is Salman Khan, who created the eponymous nonprofit Khan Academy, with the mission of improving education by providing a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere . . . now consist(ing) of self-paced software, and with over 1 million unique students per month, [ranking it] the most-used educational video repository on the Internet.” 

According to GenConnect, “Khan envisions his academy as eventually providing a whole software platform where anyone can access any subject and lessons – from basic arithmetic, to biology, to advanced calculus – for free, and in multiple languages.”  Other speakers included Vincent Dotoli, the founder and head of the much-lauded Harlem Academy, which aims to break the negative stereotypes of inner city kids and to help them deal with the rigors of high school. 

But it was a for-profit ideas entrepreneur who raised the most interesting and perhaps disturbing idea. Lynda Resnick, the for-profit owner of POM Wonderful and FIJI Water, “is looking into the development of technical charter schools that can serve as an alternative high school for those who don’t want, or need, to go to college, but who need advanced skills and training for certain career fields – such as farming, the solar power industry, and oil drilling.”  

Her theory is that in certain parts of the country  higher populations of students are opting for the job force rather than college, according to GenConnect.  “Maybe high schools have to be – in certain areas of the country – more of a tech school and maybe include college courses, or tech college courses, as well as college courses,” she added. 

Farming, solar power, oil drilling.  One wonders if there is a negative stereotype there of young people in rural communities whose interest in education is so limited.—Rick Cohen

  • Jennifer Houlihan

    I don’t think giving rural kids additional educational options – especially ones that may make them more competitive in a changing workforce – reinforces any kind of stereotype. Some kids want to make a life in the rural community in which they were raised, and that would naturally move some set of them toward industries based in that community. Other kids grow up in the city and want to stay there, exploring careers that they been exposed to all their lives. Both choices are equally legitimate.

    I live in a rural area, where high schools are a key social connector for whole communities, and given the drop-out rates, delinquency, and other challenges we face on a daily basis, I commend anyone willing to recognize that college or no-college are NOT the only meaningful choices for bright, ambitious kids willing to work to make a difference in their world – whether in their hometown or father afield.

    Who wouldn’t want to give interested and capable kids the chance to take college level classes at their high school, if the nearest college or JC is many miles away, with no public transportation to get them there, or is simply outside their family’s means? What’s the downside?

    As for making tech and voc ed more accessible, I urge anyone interested in educational reform to check out Mike Rowe’s TED presentation or his presentation to Congress (both available online) on the value – the necessity – of new models of delivery for vocational and technical ed to keep our ENTIRE workforce engaged, creative and competitive.

  • Kerry

    Hey, not everyone wants to or has to go to college to be successful in life. Those who are good with their hands are worth their weight in gold and we should give them every chance possible to improve their skills in an environment comfortable to them. My daughter didn’t go to college yet purchased her second business by age 20. Don’t be so negative about rural kids Rick!

  • Ruth McCambridge

    I have to agree. My own son went to a voc ed school and is also a business owner – wildly entrepreneurial…and he’s a city kid. I don’t think Rick is being negative about rural kids but I would submit that we have focused so much on the work of the mind we have discounted the importance of work of the hands

  • rick cohen

    of course i’m not being negative about rural kids. To the contrary. There’s nothing wrong with alternatives to college. But there’s sometimes a subtle stereotyping of rural kids as less cut out for college than their urban counterparts, and I don’t believe that to be the case at all.

  • Karen Garber

    I agree with Ruth. As far as creating jobs for employment of youth and older adults on American soil, I think that vocational and technical occupations must be expanded and training opportunities developed to provide the skilled labor force we need.