20 Years On: Remembrance, Rebuilding, Refusal
Taking a break from my usual blog subject matter, I’m using this space today to share a reflection I wrote from my home office in downtown Manhattan on September 14, 2001. I don’t feel much like writing today, but I wanted to share this remembrance as a way to mark what has been a very significant event in my personal and professional journey.
After seeing the second plane hit the south tower from my downtown NYC street, I made daily pilgrimages to view the smoldering rubble as far south as the barricades would allow. These experiences motivated me to use EduChange as a vehicle for rebuilding, from scratch, a new model for schools. There is no other path forward, I remember thinking. It is no coincidence that I tapped the power of systems engineering and universal design as a launchpad for this work. The descriptor Open Learning Architecture is my imperfect attempt to capture, in a single phrase, what I’ve led talented teams of dedicated people to engineer atop the rubble of our education system, some 20 years on.
I am proud to say that I have refused many things along the way. I have refused all investments and grants; we have done the work that needed to be done, according to our standard of quality and our timeline. I have refused, and will continue to refuse, the agendas of the educational elites, those who choose power over purpose and influence over integrity. On more than one occasion, when I felt like the societal roadblocks were insurmountable, I have wanted to quit trying. But so far I refused to do that, too. These refusals have made the journey incredibly difficult. But I regret none of them.
Below please find the piece I sent to the schools and clients of EduChange back in 2001.
Channeling Energy for Change: Thoughts on the Tragedies of Tuesday, September 11, 2001
At this tragic and grievous time, EduChange would like to extend to all of our clients and to the community at large the very sincerest of condolences and most genuine hopes for peace around the world.
For those of you not familiar with the geography of New York City, EduChange is located seventeen blocks north of the collapsed WTC Twin Towers. I was on my way out of the office a few minutes before 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 when I looked up to see the flames and black smoke engulfing the north tower. Shortly after, I witnessed the second crash and subsequent collapse of the south tower. Those horrific images are branded in my mind; those emotions will ferment in my heart forever.
Today I mourn with my New York City community, with our national community, and indeed with the global human community. As I try to create a new normalcy that will somehow be satisfying, I focus on my life’s work: the incredibly important and necessary work on behalf of our children. I now share with you my initial responses to recent tragedies, responses guiding the upcoming work of EduChange, Inc.
There is a scientific law stating that energy cannot be created or destroyed, it only changes form. Indeed, the tremendous amount of energy released in the hateful suicide massacres has been transformed into an unimaginable outpouring of generosity, collaboration, and kindness from points around the globe. But these positive energies parallel deep-seated angers, vengeances, and fears that were also transformed by Tuesday’s events. What this massive amount of energy will change into next is unclear at best. What is clear is our need to harness the energy, and channel its tremendous power toward rebuilding what has crumbled in our communities throughout recent decades of greed and self-indulgence.
Many people have wondered what they can possibly do to help ease the pain of so many. Let me make a suggestion about how to catalyze the next transformation of energy. Let us channel it into our local communities to make them safer, more compassionate places worthy of calling “home.” Let us make concerted efforts to care for our children, understanding that the future of the world rests on their growing shoulders. Together, let us act aggressively to empower our children with the mental and emotional strength that their future will require. Let us fortify our local and national schools.
As I stood at the police barricade closest to the downtown area today, I caught a smoky glimpse of the leaning girder skeletons of what were once the grandest towers of our city. Somehow that image fit with my recent visions of our public education system. Though it has not crashed to the ground with the same cataclysmic force, the towers of our educational system have been crumbling for decades. We are now left with a skeleton of a system that is not grand, is not powerful, and is looked upon with horror and disgust.
If we are to rebuild the girders that will uphold our local and world community in the days to come, we must not shake our heads in disbelief and shrug our shoulders irresponsibly, looking for someone to blame. We do not fault the firefighters and police officers for trying to save citizens in the face of enormous falling buildings. Similarly, we must not criticize teachers and administrators for being unable to bolster our educational system in the face of the social apathy and blame undermining their work. Together we must restructure our school system and buttress the community services that support it.
The energy for change has been released. We must now ensure that we channel it into fervent community collaboration on behalf of our children.
As work at EduChange moves forward, I remain committed to the work of our schools and all educational organizations. I hope you will join me in these efforts.
Catherine Saldutti Rubin
President, EduChange, Inc.
September 14, 2001
We’ll let you know when the next post is ready for you!