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Worlds Apart, Yet on the Same Page

While I'm away, please welcome our NPR colleague, Lynn Neary, to the Tell Me More chair (and the blog). If you're a fan of NPR's Talk of the Nation or Morning Edition, I'm sure you are familiar with her work as occasional guest host on those programs. Take it away, Lynn...

Education has been the focus on TMM this week ...And I keep thinking about two conversations we've brought you since I've been filling-in.

Today, I talked with filmmaker Molly Blank about her documentary Testing Hope: Grade 12 in the New South Africa, which followed four students through the all-consuming process of studying for a set of exams that would, literally, determine their future. If they did well enough, they would likely have a chance at pursuing higher education...and the opportunity to lift themselves, and their families, out of poverty. But the Capetown High School, where they prepared for the tests, lacked basic resources. You might remember hearing Blank point out how there weren't even enough chairs for every child.

I couldn't help but to compare this South African school to Philadelphia's School of the Future, which we talked about in yesterday's program. In this fully-wired school, each student has his or her own laptop. The "Smart Cards," used by students to gain entry to the school, eliminate the need for grim security barriers. Teachers seem to freely use innovative approaches to learning. Classes are small, and so is the student body — less than 1,000 kids are enrolled. And, in a smart low-tech move, classes begin close to 9:00 a.m. to align with the bio-rhythms of teenagers. Fancy.

Still, here's the best part of this: the school caters to an inner-city population. Microsoft played a role in its development, but the company did not give any money toward it. All funding came from the school district's budget.

The kids from Philadelphia's inner-city are already displaying one sure sign of success in their new school: we hear they are showing up for class in larger numbers.

Just think, what might happen if you matched the possibilities inherent in such a school with the determination and passion of kids all over the world who understand, as one South African student in the documentary explains, that education is "the ticket to life"?

Makes you kind of mad, doesn't it? It's upsetting that we (and I do mean "we") keep failing young people with empty rhetoric about the importance of education, while, at the same time, offering empty promises about what will be done to improve it.

That's my two-cents for the day.

I've had a great time on TMM. Michel is back Monday.

...And, by the way, things went pretty well with the Barbershop guys. Jimi even followed in his tradition by giving me a new nickname: Lynn-Rock.

I think I'll keep it.