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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

How parents and teachers can fight a barrier on the horizon

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Speaker Ryan Bryce, who won the Power Players Roundtable discussion, told students and educators that education has a way of moving fast, and easily moving back if schools don’t keep up.

Mr. Bryce’s wife, two kids and two dogs — to say nothing of the baby on the way in January — are all behind the student who ran to the mic on stage.

“She asked about your dog, she asked about her mom and dad,” he said.

“You asked about me, but you didn’t get too personal,” Mr. Biden said to laughter from the crowd.

To the surprise of many, though, Mr. Biden’s words did not seem to fall on deaf ears. “One thing I do know is that when there’s more concern than apathy, when there’s more concern than complacency, then I’m confident we can figure it out,” he said.

And, a question in the Power Players Roundtable format, came from a student who cited a recent study showing that social, emotional learning (SEL) programs taught children how to regulate their emotions. “How is SEL worth fighting for?” the student asked.

“There’s a place for SEL,” Mr. Biden replied. “The problem is how. A great teacher is going to grab hold of a child and say, ‘I want you to face your fear and have courage to take on what’s in front of you.’ It’s not going to be by memorizing in a book. It’s going to be by personal training, by finding your appropriate self-talk. There’s a lot of fun stuff you can do that enhances children, but you can do it in the classroom.”

Mr. Biden also reminded the audience of a man named Malcolm Gladwell in a commencement speech he gave in 2007 at Scranton College in Pennsylvania.

“Malcolm Gladwell told me, ‘Nothing ever breaks into a new level until it has to be broken into a dozen new levels,’” he said. “So whether you have a dream or not, even to the degree of getting into an Ivy League school, you’re about to have to create a new level for yourself and start again.”

Asked about Mr. Biden’s remarks, Curtis Grant, vice president of education at the advocacy group Stand for Children, said the president’s words “remind us that we have options.”

But it’s not just Mr. Biden. In a Power Players Roundtable conversation with President Trump, Mary Wells, the president of Alliance for Excellent Education, asked students and teachers in June to think about a simple solution for the school system’s growing gap in achievement between rich and poor: Form a bipartisan coalition to change the law.

Their common concern, Ms. Wells said, was that the problem was bigger than even the problems with the current law. “And I’m telling you, the consensus from those who are privy to this conversation is that nobody is surprised that that’s the case.”

She added, “It is America’s problem, it is our problem, and we have the opportunity to address it together.”

To date, Ms. Wells said, her group has not heard much of a response from the president and the Republicans in Congress. Still, she believes that maybe now is the time to act, before the entire system unravels.

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