Now is our time.”
—Vice President Al Gore
“This is our moment.”
These quotations are from former Vice President Al Gore and Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone, each of whom spoke at the Council on Foundations annual conference. (Partial videos have been posted on the conference’s wrap-up page.) They argue that the next generation will tackle the problems that Baby Boomers have bequeathed to them. But Gore worries about the enormity and irreversibility of some of those problems. And Canada wonders whether our education system will prepare them.
Gore described younger generations as truly committed to improving and safeguarding the environment. But he notes that the rest of us may not “find the moral courage” to tackle the huge climate challenges and plant the necessary seeds of renewal for future generations. The youth cannot solve these problems alone—we must stand with them.
Canada previewed the documentary Waiting for Superman, due for release this fall, the thesis of which is that the key to success in American public education is luck. It is little more than a lottery system. The film, from the same producers as An Inconvenient Truth, may trigger action by everyday citizens in ways similar to what Gore’s film has done for the environment and climate change. Canada says that he has observed a rising level of “deep engagement” in America along the lines of ‘60s-era social activism, and he called on philanthropists to help leverage that momentum.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen expressed optimism about new leaders, heaping praise on Millennials, suggesting that today’s youngest generation of adults are showing a level of commitment to service and are giving back in a way that American society has not seen in a long time.
As optimistic as much of the discussion was, plenty of concern remains about the future of America’s youth. Patrick Corvington of the Corporation for National and Community Service referred to a report by Mission: Readiness, which notes that 75 percent of the country’s young citizens are unable to serve in the military because they dropped out of high school, have a criminal past or are physically or mentally unfit.
Will we invest today in equipping tomorrow’s leaders? That is the challenge to us all.