Teachers challenged to start an education 'revolution'

In Saturday remarks to graduates from Elon's Master of Education program, Elon President Emeritus J. Fred Young, who founded with his family a company that brings international teachers to the United States, proposed changes to the way Americans view learning and student outcomes.

Elon University leaders conferred degrees Saturday morning on students in the Master of Education program whose Commencement speaker called for “revolutions” that he argued are necessary to improve public education while preparing students for the realities of a 21st century economy.

Those proposed changes – a new approach to teaching the underprivileged, additional opportunities for meaningful employment for people who lack academic or career skills, a national service program required for all young people, and the doubling of teacher pay – would, as Elon President Emeritus J. Fred Young stated, “ensure our most talented are doing our most important pastime: teaching our children.”

“A career in education is a noble profession,” Young told his Whitley Auditorium audience. “Each of us can name several teachers who have opened ‘golden doors’ for us, and you have the opportunity to open that door for many, many, many students.”

Young delivered his remarks to family and friends of 21 graduates and 13 international teachers taking part in the Visiting International Faculty program, which the former Elon president helped start more than a decade ago. He spoke of several social revolutions that he has personally witnessed in his lifetime, from shifting public attitudes on smoking, birth control pills for women, civil rights for various groups and technological upheaval.

He also emphasized that future revolutions will rely on the graduates seated before him.

“I would like to see the development of a program to provide effective education for the underprivileged and severely disadvantaged, children from destitute and homeless families, children from broken communities, and those facing discrimination, both real and imagined,” Young said. “The schools can not do this alone.”

Job creation is also important. Young said that more meaningful employment opportunities must be developed to give those with little or no academic or career skills a way to better themselves and their families. Stable employment with decent wages and benefits in turn lead to stronger families. Stronger families make it easier for schools to effectively teach students.

“Many, many of these people have outstanding personal skills, character traits and work habits,” he said. “But large numbers of those individuals with limited skills are going to encounter great difficulty with the technology and other requirements that come with even menial jobs.”

However, manufacturing and automobile plants have closed and technology has made it impossible for their return. “Computers and robots are doing much of the same work,” Young said, “and that trend will only continue.”

Young advocated for a national service program required of all young people that would bridge the growing divide between socioeconomic classes. When he was a boy, almost everyone – rich or poor – attended public schools, and all young men regardless of status registered for the draft under the shadow of the Vietnam War. It was easier for people of different economic backgrounds to interact.

Today? Not so much.

“Many fear we’re moving toward a society based on class,” Young said. “We do not know each other. We are not in regular contact with people who are different. Our lives are less rich because of this.”

He concluded his remarks by advocating for significant increases in teacher pay. To recruit the best into the classrooms, you need to pay the best. Teachers themselves aren’t always inclined to push for their own salary hikes, Young said, since they aren’t attracted to the profession because of competitive pay.

“Most of the major problems in education can be solved by one simple but major revolution. Salaries need to be doubled. Doubled! Not raised 5 percent or 10 percent. Not by cost-of-living increases,” Young said. “We need to bite the bullet, spend the money, solve the problem, by investing the numbers that are necessary to double salaries and attract more high-quality educators.”

In 1973, Young was named the seventh president of Elon College and served until 1998. Elon more than doubled enrollment as it became one of the premier undergraduate institutions on the Eastern Seaboard.

During Young’s career, the North Carolina native was chairman of the board of directors for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics; chairman of the board of directors of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities; and a member of the executive committee of the International Association of University Presidents.

Currently, Young chairs the board of directors of VIF International, a North Carolina-based company he and his family founded. VIF is the largest program of its type in the United States, bringing international teachers to the states each year to provide cultural enrichment, language instruction and global education for students in the public schools. 

VIF also provides approximately 50 “Splash” Immersion Spanish and Mandarin programs for North Carolina schools and Global Gateways, an online program to support international education for about 10,000 teachers.

The Aug. 16, 2014, Commencement program featured additional remarks from Nathaniel Bourne and Lisa Cantor, who jointly offered the student address, and Elon University President Leo M. Lambert, who closed the ceremony with a charge to graduates.

Bourne and Cantor spoke of the challenges and opportunities they discovered in their graduate program as well as the support they received from Elon faculty.

“All of our classes and experiences have enriched our teaching practice,” Bourne said. “We have grown as professionals in a number of ways. Most importantly, through action research, we have shifted our view of teaching from being passive consumers of methods to researchers who are contributing to the body of knowledge surrounding education and learning.

“This has empowered many of us to become more engaged in the school, community and global conversations about education.” 

In his charge to graduates, Lambert compared great teachers to “magicians” who inspire change and growth in students.

“The results of your life’s labors in education will continue to have influence decades from now and will echo into the generations ahead,” Lambert said. “Class periods end. Marking periods end. School years end. But the influence of your work on other human beings will carry forward in wonderful and unimaginable ways!

“Do not lose this thought in your daily lives. Thank you for choosing to be teachers.” 

Candidates for Elon University’s Master of Education:

Lilia Zulema Andrade Acero
B.A., Universidad Industrial de Santander

Michael Wayne Armstrong II
B.A., Guilford College

Nathaniel Walker Bourne
A.B., Elon University

Lisa Ilana Cantor
B.S., University of Toronto

Lindsay Rogers Coltrane
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Brandi Lynn Baker Edmundson
B.S., Elon University

Sarah Kennedy Farrell
B.S., East Carolina University

Justine Lynn Gatsche
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Cynthia Rene Prevette Gilliam
A.B., Elon College

Jodi Ann Hayes
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Maggie McKenzie Klomp
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Laura Dawn Landis
B.S., East Carolina University

Gena Laura Campbell Marshall
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Meredith Lee McNeill
A.B., Elon University

Patrick George Regan
B.A., The University of Illinois at Springfield

Megan Ann Fields Reid
B.A., The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Esmeralda Resto
B.A., Fundacion Universitaria Konrad Lorenz

Laura Marie Shepherd
B.S., Campbell University

Karen Anne Plasschaert Staley
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Christopher Robert Walsh
B.S., The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Lisa Anne Little Wilson
B.S., Elon University

Visiting International Faculty Candidates for Certification

Tatiana Alexandra Alverez
Yeimi Estrella Cabrera
Julieth Paola Cohen
Paola Andrea Contreras
Laura Fernanoa Fonseca
Cynthia Yaneth Gonzalez
Jhonatan Marin-Mesa
Paula Andrea Martinez
Jamie Alberto Osorno
Yuri Stella Ospina Godoy
Diana Milena Ramirez Lemus
Anir Del Carmen Romero Peralta
Linyong Yao