Just a few short weeks ago the whole world watched as Chile rescued 33 men from deep underground. It was a stunning moment reflecting that nation’s capacity and will, the strength and soul of the miners and their families and the ability of leaders in government and business to work together. As I watched and shared the joy of the rescue I could not help thinking about and old adage from the work that I have been doing form the last 15 years: top-down and bottom-up.
Top-down and bottom-up in the world of community schools and social policy suggests that the students, families and neighborhood residents who are striving to see succeed must be active agents of change in their own lives, in their schools and in their communities. Policymakers cannot do their work in isolation from these constituents. The task for policymakers is to create the conditions that will enable local people who are struggling to succeed. Policymakers must not only finance vital supports and opportunities, they must also set in place policies that provide incentives for organizations and agencies to collaborate to attain common goals. In formulating these policies they must listen carefully and continuously to the voices of students, families and community residents, and be accountable to them. And they must model this kind of cross-boundary collaboration themselves.
In Chile all the efforts of the government and the many other nations and corporations and individuals who built and used the machinery to drill the holes and who so brilliantly used new technologies to save the miners ...all of that capacity would not have meant much in the absence of the will of the miners, their leadership and organization, and the love, commitment and advocacy of their families. Had the miners at the bottom not had worked together, and not harness the support of their families; had Chile’s leaders not worked collaboratively with the miners and with other resources, the story might have been very different. Everyone needed to be on board. They were…and the results show what can be accomplished when everyone works together.
So as we work in communities across America whether it is for Community Schools, for Promise Neighborhoods, or for other community and school change strategies, let’s remember that the so-called tops and bottoms must work together, that people will support what they help to create; that policy and practice must support and empower. This is not an easy task at a time of scarce resources when people want quick fixes and quick results. But it is absolutely essential to our goals of helping all young people be ready for college, career and citizenship.