The first task of the new superintendent of schools needs to be to ride the T from Forest Hills to Harvard Square.
She should buy a monster energy drink at Forest hills and a tall frappe latte in the Starbucks outside the Harvard station. On the ride, the new sup should take notes on shoes and what riders use to keep themselves busy from ereaders and newspapers to candy crush and social media.
He should be asked to report on advertisements lining the wooden walls of the rundown orange line and hanging above the brightly colored festive seats of the red line. Perhaps she should analyze trash from each train like an anthropologist.
Maybe then our new superintendent will get a sense of the divide facing students who may think sports stardom or American Idol are more accessible than the technology boom happening a T-ride away.
For the benefit of our students and our state, she – and we — need to understand the orange-red divide.
Tutoring at an area juvenile jail and seeing the stark contrast between life on the orange line and life on the red line gives me a new perspective of the problems in STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math). The current fad is to tack failures on to the approach – focusing on facts that do not connect to students’ real lives and not on STEM’s inherent creativity and imagination. Perhaps, however, there is an even larger issue.
On my last Orange trip, I sat next to a teenager wearing a faded T-shirt and across from a young woman loudly talking into her cell phone about a court appearance. The woman near the door wore a janitor’s uniform and carried her laundry. A young man in hard-toed construction boots drank an energy drink. The advertisements, reminders to get yearly checkups, are mostly ignored as passengers are lost in games and Facebook.
Transfer to the red line and everyone is in business gear, heels and dressy wool coats. Red-liners read newspapers and paperbacks and sit under advertisements for Harvard extension courses while drinking from reusable coffee mugs and water bottles. Red line riders appear one step higher on Maslow’s pyramid of needs and the comforts of their daily lives are clearly displayed.
As a high school drop out turned Harvard PhD student, I have a drive to destroy personally-installed educational barriers and STEM education obviously has a problem of perception; the perception that it is not accessible.
We know Kim Kardashian is a real person yet it does not occur to us that her lifestyle could be our reality. My concern is that in the same way going to Harvard or MIT or having a white color job in the tech field does not feel tangible to many of our students. We cannot imagine a daily commute via private jet and perhaps many cannot imagine a daily commute on the red line. Perception can put limits on reality, exactly like blinders on a horse.
Erasing the lines between our poorest communities and our booming tech industry needs to become a priority and I challenge the new superintendent of schools to work to remove those blinders and make orange-red transfers easier. I ask her to make a concentrated effort to connect our world-class universities and innovators with students from all communities, making each a part of the other’s reality.
Without showing the promise and excitement in STEM fields, we are losing some of our communities’ most promising minds. I know first hand that students find other outlets for their drive, potentially even illicit.
We need to catch them before it’s too late and ride the train together.