Tri-Sector Athlete in Education: Daniel Rabuzzi and the MOUSE movement

I had the extreme privilege recently to be in dialogue with a Tri-Sector Athlete in Education, Dr. Daniel Rabuzzi. Daniel is a brilliant and visionary leader of MOUSE.org, a national organization that develops young people to leverage technology for their own learning and support schools in adopting technology. The "Mouse Squads", student driven technology support groups, are deployed in schools across the country, and has become a model of student centered STEM learning. MOUSE.org is an organization to watch.

Daniel interviewed me recently and I am sharing that enriching discussion with you:

Daniel: "Mouse celebrates its 20th year this coming spring. How would you characterize -- in education & youth development generally -- the changes in theories of action relating to learning and to practiced pedagogy in the past two decades?"

Noel: "The most positive change in the last decade our so is the acknowledgement that research based youth development principles actually exist. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an organization serving youth, in the U.S. and abroad, that does not either recognize or incorporate youth development principles in its programs. This, unfortunately, does not guarantee that the org is serving young people with quality or that those principles are effectively infused into program. But you would probably not get a blank stare from an educator when the question of youth development principles are raised. Much of this, I believe has to do with the growth of field, and also its scattered nature.

Orgs serving youth in the out of school time to adjudicated youth to social services invoke youth development into their Theory of Change, and philanthropy is requiring a greater focus on outcomes for youth, which requires research based approaches to program. Coupled with this development, are organizations, like Mouse, who see the value of youth development principles linked to experiential learning, fostering the notion that young people learn best by doing and seeing. Building on young people's need for valued relationships and greater responsibility and autonomy, organizations that push young people to be at the center of their learning while solving problems for others is where the present and future of education and work reside."

Daniel: "What do you imagine we'll experience in the coming two decades, likewise in terms of both learning theory and the learning that may actually occur with and between learners? What factors do you believe will be the key drivers of what's coming?"

Noel: "I'm not one of the educators who laments our current stage of technology and education.
I like to tell colleagues when they criticize that students have too much technology at their fingertips, or that their brains are not as sharp as generations prior (usually older adults think their generation had the answer) that there must have been hell when the book was mass produced. There must have been similar discussions about too much knowledge in the hands of commoners (not just the elites), and that the social fabric would disintegrate because folks would bow their heads into a book and not engage in conversations anymore.

Most educators are concerned with a loss of power and changing what we do rather than student learning. Well, like books, technology is a tool. It allows for space and time to collapse with information and with relationships. It is here to evolve. Co-construction of knowledge, agile learning and collaboration are the drivers of learning and the workplace. Most importantly, young people's minds are wired differently now than generations before. They are not overly reliant on the "sage on stage" teacher for all the answers. They can find and verify information with the touch of a smart phone, and they want their education like their food or sneakers, made to their specifications and at different times of the day. We need to evolve with technology and young people or we will be the ones left out of the conversations to come."

Daniel: "How should we best define success in public education and in the less formal settings where young people also learn -- especially since learning outcomes may take years to manifest and since attribution of cause & effect can be difficult in social endeavors?"

Noel: "I distinguish between schooling and education, of course, so this question is hard to tackle. Schooling are those formal structures where instruction take place (graded system) and education is the broader learnings that occur in and out of formal structures of learning (i.e. seeing public art or taking care of a garden, etc). I do think we need to make the distinction more because we still believe once you enter a room or school, learning begins and life is on hold. We know from research that young people bring their lives into school, and that concerns of poverty, health, violence, all influence our education. So if we know that, we must begin to look not at achievement alone but how we expand young people's freedoms to achieve.

What does that mean? Well, we know that an abled bodied child experiences the world differently than a disabled child, that a rich young person experiences school differently than a poor young person. Yet we still focus solely on test scores and "gaps" in learning as the only way to chart progress rather than looking at the ways we need to provide greater resources so that young people can expand their capability to achieve. It makes the young person, him or herself the metric or the "end" not the test score or the young person as "the means" to that test score. It looks at, very simply, did we as a program provide greater opportunities for "Jennifer" or "Jabari" from where they started? Did they need different things and did we help them acquire those things? Did we take into account their bodily needs, the ways they learn, their family circumstances, and then craft something that supports them and expands their ability to be successful? I am influenced by the work of Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize winning welfare economist who helped develop the Human Development Index at the United Nations, which charts how much a country expands opportunities ("freedoms") for its residents and not just GDP. I am interested in how we measure expanding freedoms for young people over the very narrow metrics of success we currently use that is taking us in circles, actually."

Daniel: "You are building and leading the graduate-level Educational Leadership Program at New York University's Steinhardt School. Tell us more about your vision, perhaps particularly relating to the blend of theory and practice, and the focus on social justice and equity issues."

Noel: "I am honored to be on faculty and directing the Educational Leadership Program at NYU Steinhardt after years in the social sector. We at NYU Steinhardt have and always will be concerned with social justice. A lot of schools of education say they are focused on social justice but what does that look like? Well, I take my cue from law, actually. I believe that a lawyer or a judge who wants justice for a client is less concerned with the order of things and more on what is ethically in the benefit of those who have been unfairly treated or left out of the democratic experiment. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is my hero in this area. She reflects on the Supreme Court, a jurist who courageously does not let concerns with the "social order" override her focus on justice.

Being focused on social justice in education is the same way, how do we undertake the responsibility to rethink the current order of schooling and look at new ways of educating not just young people, but families and communities. In our Ed Leadership program at NYU Steinhardt we develop leaders to also have competencies to work cross-sector (with public, private and government partners) to transform schools and communities. We develop aspiring assistant principals, principals, superintendents as well as executive directors and after school program directors in non-profits to work together in classes and look to models like Community Schools and Promise Neighborhoods that provide comprehensive services to families in need as the future of schooling in the U.S. We want leaders who can talk to the heads of corporations as well as leaders in community based organizations to find solutions that work, rather than continue just waving fists at the problem."