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Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools (Jossey-Bass)
by Milton Chen

Review by Randy Fielding

Milton Chen poses this challenge in his recently published book, Education Nation:
“Imagine an Education Nation, a learning society where the education of children and adults is the highest national priority, on par with a strong economy, high employment, and national security.”

Chen proceeds to help us imagine this scenario with examples from his own experience. His intent for the book is to curate the collection of, with its wide range of films, articles and other materials about education. He frames these resources within six “edges” of innovative definitions of learning.

Two of these edges are the “Curriculum Edge: Real Learning and Authentic Assessment,” and The Technology Edge: Putting Modern Tools in Young Hands.” In my experience, these edges have proven to be powerful drivers in successful schools around the world. An example is Hip-Hop High in St. Paul Minnesota (also know as High School for Recording Arts). Forty percent of the students are homeless; many have been in the criminal justice system, expelled from other schools, and have children of their own. Despite such difficult challenges, these students are authentically engaged at Hip-Hop High—connected through a sense of community, music, and the opportunity to master emerging technologies. ( )

Using stories gleaned from his many years of work in public television, the Sesame Workshop, and as executive director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, Chen arranges a wide variety of complex ideas into accessible categories, making the volume an organized repository of innovative educational components. The message of the book is the need for these “edges” to move toward the center of American society’s focus. In his view, quality education is actually the key to a strong economy, high employment and national security, positioning it as the highest priority in this country today. Yet, the truth is that many of these creative concepts remain on the edge or are non-existent in American public education.

A national dialogue about the priority of education recently occurred, and Chen’s book title and input played a role. NBC’s Education Nation Summit was held, along with a preview showing of Waiting for Superman, a documentary on the state of public schools, which officially premiered October 8th. The film is by David Guggenheim, the award-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth, and it follows a cast of school children as they struggle for a chance at what used to be a given in the United States – an excellent public education. Heart-breaking stories and facts combine to create a potent indictment of the current state of public schools.
 With a less emotional viewpoint, Chen’s Education Nation provides solutions to these complex issues, and will serve as a useful reference indeed for administrators, teachers and indeed anyone concerned with the state of the American public school system.

What approach will be the most effective in producing change? We’re interested in your views, so please comment below.

Randall Fielding, AIA, is the founder of DesignShare, and also the Chairman of Fielding Nair International, Architects and Change Agents for Creative Learning Communities. He can be reached at:

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