One indicator of the rising public interest in educational reform is the broad coverage given to Waiting for “Superman,” the documentary taking on the issue that was released last fall. I’m not sure what Graduate School of Education Vice Dean Doug Lynch thinks of the film itself, but it’s clear from associate editor Trey Popp’s cover story in this issue that, for Lynch, the key to improving the system at all levels is less a matter of one extraordinary individual or single vision than having lots of ideas conceived by people approaching the system’s problems from a variety of perspectives—and that Penn GSE is taking a leading role in encouraging that kind of productive intellectual ferment.
With the support of Dean Andy Porter and the sometimes-skeptical assent of the GSE faculty, Lynch has launched a series of initiatives aimed at sparking more entrepreneurship in the field of education. One was setting up an education business-plan competition at GSE modeled on the successful annual event that the Wharton School sponsors—only with a bigger prize. Another was starting the Executive Program in Work-Based Learning Leadership, a GSE doctoral program in which Wharton faculty frequently teach as well, “designed for senior-level executives in charge of corporate-based education and training.”
Trey profiles one of this program’s graduates, Sabrina Kay GrED’09, who has used her own self-made fortune to purchase a for-profit school in California. At Fremont College she is working to replicate what she learned in the program from the faculty at GSE and Wharton, combined with her own ideas, in a curriculum aimed at low- and middle-income students—an intellectual theft that has met with Lynch’s hearty approval.
This issue also offers some routes to personal reformation, appropriate for this season of fresh starts. In “A Shelf Full of Resolutions,” frequent contributor Susan Frith distills the advice of five alumni authors.
She starts off with Daniel Akst C’78, whose We Have Met the Enemy: Self Control in an Age of Excess traces the human quest for restraint from the ancient Greeks up to the overflowing-with-temptations present era, when we’ve never needed it more or, perhaps, exercised it less. Akst is himself a model of moderation, apparently, but he also provides some tips for the rest of us to trick our will power into action, modern versions of Odysseus’ lashing himself to the mast to prevent his answering the sirens’ call.
In addition, book critic David Ulin C’84, in The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, considers the value—to his own life and the broader culture—of engaging intensely with great texts, challenged along the way by his teenage son’s resistance to reading The Great Gatsby. Style-expert Kim Johnson Gross CW’74 instructs readers on how to match their wardrobe with their life-stage while still feeling good about themselves, filtered through her own experience with divorce and turning 50. Other books focus on the importance of knowing more about the food we eat and making healthier choices (most of the time) and suggest a variety of ways to have more productive conversations with co-workers and others.
While he mostly deplores the “noise” of the modern electronic world of feeds, tweets, and posts, Ulin does recommend a Facebook page called “I Attend Jay Gatsby’s Parties.” Readers—especially ones who have a better idea of who Gatsby was than what a tweet is—may want to take a look at “PENN 2.0,” which provides a primer on the University’s various forays into social networking. Incidentally, the writer of that piece, Molly Petrilla C’06, also oversees the Gazette’s blog on arts & culture—which you can find, along with other blogs, links to our Twitter feed and Facebook page, not to mention archived issues and other supplemental content, at our website, www.upenn.edu/gazette.
—John Prendergast C’80