Thanksgiving Epiphany

Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center

After we enjoyed a family day spending time together, eating good food, and playing with the kids, we voyaged to the notorious and ironic black Friday sales on Thursday night in the Chicago Outlets in Chicago’s southwest suburbs.  Besides the fact that nearly 95.5% of all people shopping spoke colloquial languages other than English with friends and family, which is excitement enough for globally minded individuals, but en route home after the seemingly endless lines and deals we passed by the Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center.  This notion that an entire field of healthcare is dedicated to research, diagnoses, symptom identification, and treatment against this horrible disease struck me today like never before.  Their mission statement reads as listed below.

“Northwestern Medicine is dedicated to providing the most advanced healthcare to the communities and patients we serve. The Northwestern Medicine clinical and administrative staff, medical and science faculty and medical students come together everyday with a shared commitment to superior quality, academic excellence, scientific discovery and patient safety.”

How is this relevant to K-12 education?

Several questions sprung to mind immediately as I digested the words “Cancer Center” amidst the expansive healthcare field.  Questions such as:

  1. What do we know about cancer and it’s consequences that we need to create an entire center to address is?
  2. As a trained professional educator and administrator, how specialized am I to address the cancers in education?
  3. What research informs how I treat our education maladies that are cancerous to our learning environments?
  4. How does this relate to K-12 education in America and our cities on a micro and macro level?
  5. How important is it for us to resolve the cancer or cancers in our field?

I once heard an education practitioner say that “at least in our field we are not responsible for life and death.”  I disagree.  I think we hold the keys to life in our grasp every day through education.

Nelson Mandela said it so eloquently, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  Lack of education often implies poverty, and poverty often perpetuates social underpinnings such as poor health, destructive relationships, lack of voice, and these frustrations beget more problems.  The cycle of poverty has been labeled as such because there is a long history of the cyclical nature of chasing shadows or roaming around a mountain repeatedly with no forward momentum in sight.  

This is why I do believe that education is life and death, maybe not immediate life and death, though that is shifting amidst our modern American schools and communities with the epidemic of mass gun violence.  Rather, in education, everyone knows that with one year of an ineffective teacher, a student can dramatically fall behind their peers elsewhere, and students from poverty cannot afford that in their lives.  


What is our cancer center in education?

We are well versed in the colloquialisms of 21st-century learning: terms such as collaborate, communicate, think critically, innovate, and design are pervasive.  We have studied organizational change management, studied successful systems, programs, and schools.  We have done meta-analyses on what has the greatest effect size in moving the needle in students’ learning.  Therefore, could we correlate these works with saving students’ lives and increasing social mobility?  With the great ocean of effective and hard-working teachers on this planet, I like to believe that we are absolutely setting student up for success.  But, what is our cancer center?


In the spirit of giving thanks, I would like to personally thank every teacher who pours his or her blood, sweat, tears, sleepless nights, investigative weekends, and hard-earned dollars into their students to ensure a greater degree of mastery and academic achievement.  

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