Pamela Cantor MD


ONE OF THE CRAZIEST THINGS to me is the idea that the education system we have today was designed 100 years ago. That system thought a child’s brain was an empty vessel. Put children in a classroom, pour knowledge into them, and get them to memorize that knowledge. Some would, some wouldn’t. Then test them on that knowledge and sort them into who would be worthy of going on to college and some of the best jobs and who would not.

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If we turn schools into relationally rich communities where kids can restore their belief in the future and their belief in themselves, we are going to see a dramatic reduction in mental health symptoms.”

What we now know is that the human brain is malleable to experience and that context – the relationships, experiences, and environments in a child’s life – are the things that fuel and grow the learning brain. Not just having kids sit in a classroom passively, but having them apply knowledge in relevant and meaningful ways by doing, creating, and building things with their peers and with the support of adults they know and trust.

On top of that, today we know that no one learns the same way, so we can’t have a one-size-fits-all design. The “bell curve” on which our education system was designed is a statistical model that has been proven wrong over and over again. (See Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man.) We’re never going to see the top of a child’s developmental range unless we have some capacity to personalize learning for each and every child and provide them with experiences that show them what they are capable of.

Raj Chetty


THE AMERICAN DREAM is fading in the sense that in the middle of the last century if you were a kid growing up in America, you could virtually count on having a higher standard of living than your parents did. We estimate that for kids born in the 1940s, 92 percent went on to earn more than their parents did. But if we look at kids today, it’s become a 50/50 shot, a coin flip, as to whether you’re going to do better than your parents.

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One factor stands out in terms of predicting differences in economic mobility, and that’s social capital.”

What is it that’s leading some kids to do really well and other kids to be trapped in poverty? Things like the quality of local schools, the degree of segregation, and levels of inequality. But it turns out one factor stands out in terms of predicting these differences in economic mobility, and that’s social capital. Our most recent work measures the degree of social interaction between people from different class backgrounds. To put it in simple terms, we use data from Facebook to look at who people are friends with across the United States, and we measure the degree of cross-class interaction. As a low-income person, what fraction of your friends are high income? It turns out that this variable, the degree of cross-class interaction, is the single strongest predictor of economic mobility that anyone has identified to date.

Cross-class interaction may be critical for economic mobility because it shapes kids’ aspirations; it gives them information about things like applying for college. If your own parents haven’t gone to college, but you have many friends whose parents have, that may change your outlook on life. It may also directly give you access to internships and jobs that you otherwise wouldn’t have had. I view that as a key area for focus in research and policy on economic mobility going forward—to think about how we create more economic connectedness and cross-class interaction.

Dr. Zachary Hermes


WE CAN’T BE HELD BACK by the traditional separation of pediatrics and education spaces if we want to find the most effective and impactful approaches. Behavioral health and social emotional learning are truly two sides of the same coin, and formulate the core to driving academic achievement as well as a fulfilling life.

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It’s time for us to reimagine what this learning environment looks like. Not to tinker, not to modify, but to be willing to rethink the DNA of how we organize our schools.”

There’s a ton of data that tells us students with mental health or behavioral health issues perform much worse academically and are far more likely to face disciplinary action. But these challenges are not an inevitability. They are a response to the environment and contexts that students find themselves in. It’s time that we not only recognize the environment as a risk factor but think about it as a key component of nurturing.

Given that school is often the place that a student spends the most time, we have a profound opportunity to intervene and promote healthy skills and mindsets. The mind-body connection is more apparent, and evidence-based, than ever. We know that students are hurting, and our schools need to acknowledge and honor the trauma they’re trying to process, navigate, and overcome. Many communities, including those most vulnerable, have faced a generational trauma.

Rachel Janfaza


CURIOUS ABOUT YOUNG AMERICANS and their politics, I’ve traveled to nearly a dozen states and spoken with hundreds of potential young voters this year.

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For years, Gen Z has been at the forefront of social and political movements.”

From a Costco parking lot outside Cincinnati to a shopping center in Omaha to the campus of Georgia State University in Atlanta, it’s become abundantly clear that while young people care deeply about the issues most impacting their lives, they don’t always view electoral politics as the answer, and they rarely see themselves reflected in political news.

Political strategists, cable pundits, and even some savvy pollsters have spent years lamenting over dismal youth voter turnout, but it’s no wonder young people are skeptical of our current political ecosystem when they’re unrepresented.

Lamar Danley

Lamar Danley

A LOT OF INDIVIDUALS are coming out of high school and college unable to solve real world problems because you can’t find the answer in a passage or a book. Education doesn’t tell us to think hard anymore—it teaches us that the answer is somewhere close. When in reality, it takes a lot of hard work to find those answers.

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Education doesn’t tell us to think hard anymore—it teaches us that the answer is somewhere close. When in reality, it takes a lot of hard work to get those answers.”

Young leaders need more mentorship and a lot more positive feedback. Actually listen to us and help us get our solutions done. Generation Z will say what we want done, and leaders will say, “That’s a great idea. I hope when you become a congressman one day, you’ll implement it.”

Young people aren’t listened to, but we know we have power to change the system. This is about the future of the world. Climate change isn’t being taken seriously. It’s predicted we won’t even have social security when we get older. Does the world care about us? How can we care about ourselves if every day no one seems to care about the problems we have?

Drew Bent


I USED TO WORK in software engineering at Khan Academy. Khan Academy has this big mission of a free world class education for anyone, anywhere. It does that through an asynchronous format of videos and exercises at your own pace. We had always wondered whether we could provide that same free, high-quality, world-class education through a live synchronous format, something even higher touch; humans interacting with each other, such as mentoring and/or tutoring. We know tutoring is highly effective, but it’s often very costly and hard to scale.

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A lot of people hear ‘personalized learning,’ and they think of learning in front of a computer with no humans there, but personalized done right should be personal.”

It wasn’t until a month or so into the pandemic that the need for this really became clear. Unfortunately, students were already grade levels behind pre-pandemic, but the pandemic put them even further behind because of all the lost learning. The pandemic really exposed the issues of the education system. It’s kind of like a tide went out and left all the issues that had previously been there on the shore.

But there was also this norm change in how students thought about things. Five years ago, it would’ve been weird for a group of high schoolers from around the world to get onto a Skype call and learn from one another. The pandemic changed that. Now we have people getting on Zoom calls together, learning from one another. So, we saw the potential for a free, peer-to-peer tutoring platform that could connect people from around the world.

John Della Volpe


THERE ARE LOTS of people talking about Gen Z, but far fewer people actually talking to young people. This has to change. This 70 million strong generation is the most diverse and most educated in our history. It’s also a generation that has come of age at a time of tremendous chaos and trauma. Most young people were born on either side of 9/11 and are becoming adults while experiencing the Great Recession, gun violence, shooter drills, contentious elections, political insurrection, the rise of white nationalism, opioid abuse, and rising rates of suicide.

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We need to transform the way in which we listen to younger folks around government and politics to incorporate them into campaigns and create opportunities to vote.”

So, from the very beginning, Zoomers lacked the sense of security that older generations often took for granted. Because of all this, Zoomers are taking any means necessary to make the community and country better. Not only volunteerism, but also participating in politics in record numbers—far higher than millennials or Gen X-ers or anybody else before them—essentially doubling the rate of participation in the last midterm election. And they bring with them a progressive, solutions-based mindset.

Zoomers don’t believe that critical institutions—whether it’s the judiciary, legislative branch, education—are listening. Less than 40 percent say their education experience prepared them to be active and engaged citizens. Despite that, they’re still voting in record numbers. So, what does it all mean? It means that we need to listen and collaborate with young people to transform the way in which our curricula and educational experiences are developed.

Ronnie King

Ronnie King

EVER SINCE I ARRIVED in Jacksonville in 2006, I’ve been involved in community work and volunteerism. One of the things I realized early on was that you have two different nonprofit worlds. You have grassroots organizations that are doing almost all their work using volunteers and on a very, very small budget. And then you have organizations with multi-million dollar budgets committed for several years, but they don’t always reflect the community.

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I can’t run my program successfully unless someone else is running a program to help kids read and do math. We’re all in this together.”

If we are going to address issues in the Black community, those grassroots organizations should be leading from the front—not just bringing them to the table or trying to get their opinion. Honestly, we’ve tried a lot of different programs and strategies in the Black community, and we haven’t seen the kind of turnaround we want. The one thing we have not tried is allowing Black-led organizations to be the ones leading the change.

Bringing a community together is hard work. We can do it, but we have to be thoughtful in our approach. I think too often we see a great program that works for 100 students, and we try to dump a lot of money in that program and hope it scales right. But there is no one program out there that’s going to be able to scale across the nation. We need these pockets of communities to come together. It takes community, and we can’t do it without them.