Geoffrey Canada Motivates 1,100 in Birmingham

Lifelong educator and Harlem Children’s Zone founder Geoffrey Canada encouraged the 1,100 attendees at the Birmingham Business Alliance’s annual meeting on Thursday to embrace innovation in education and take responsibility for educating all students in their communities.

“I have become convinced that if the country continues on the present path as it relates to educating our children we will not remain a super power for long,” Canada said. Innovation leads to success, and continuing to do the same thing when it doesn’t work will destroy the country, he explained, noting that 75% of Americans aged 17 to 24 are unqualified to serve in the military. That statistic comes from the 2010 report Ready, Willing and Unable to Serve by the nonprofit Mission: Readiness comprised of retired military leaders.

Teachers need the freedom to innovate and need to be treated as professionals, not “line workers,” Canada said. “If we take the money, we need to get the job done… Professionals should be able to do things differently,” he added.

Canada gave the example of his public charter schools in New York City, the Harlem Promise Academies, which are open 11 months a year instead of the traditional nine months. “Only in education is staying open 11 months a year considered radical,” said Canada. Fire departments, businesses and most other organizations do whatever is necessary to get the job done even though the work is hard, he added.

Alluding to the title of the 2010 documentary Waiting for Superman, in which he is featured, Canada encouraged the community to be involved in ensuring its students succeed, because no one else is going to swoop in and fix the problems. There is no “Superman” who will fix the schools.

The BBA held their annual meeting at the Birmingham Sheraton, and the crowd included state legislators, local superintendents, and local school board members, in addition to area business leaders.

To read more about Canada’s speech and the BBA’s annual meeting, check out this Birmingham News story here. To learn more about Canada’s thoughts on improving education, watch this video of him here.