New Neighborhoods for Improved Learning?

I was intrigued by a recent feature on National Public Radio online called,  “A ‘Whom Do You Hang With?’ Map of America”, which highlighted several websites or individuals who are mapping the United States, not by political and geographic boundaries, but by some of the ways in which we live and interact with others.

These maps reconfigure cities and regions as neighborhoods by criteria such as how widespread its money travels or in terms of telephone calls made and received between areas of the country. The idea is to create a map that is shaped and colored by how people actually live, as opposed to one shaped by the traditional state boundaries, which tells us nothing about the people’s lives who inhabit them.

The deep blue lines in this map, for example, indicate that the four-state area of Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma does a lot of money-sharing, creating an “effective community” of business, distinct from other similarly-bound areas of the country.

The deep blue lines indicate the distinct border of this midwestern “money-pass neighborhood” which includes four states.

This map, on the other hand, indicates which states call each other the most.

The matching colors indicate effective communities which transcend state borders due to frequent phone calls.

It’s fascinating to view the “Whom Do You Hang” maps and to think about how our perceptions of space and distance in daily life match with the reality of what we do.

These visual representations of our nation made me wonder how different are our mental maps of schools in our country from how they actually are, and, more importantly, from the reality of those who teach and attend class inside the schools.

While the most important discoveries would possibly not be related to geographic boundaries, it would be interesting to see where are the large grants going and who is taking more advantage of business/school partnerships. It might be interesting to compare specific content area initiatives by region, funds spent on professional development and technology, and where, if anywhere, there is pooling of resources and collaboration among educators. Where there is collaboration among teachers, how far from their home base do they go? Is it possible that more teachers are connecting with teachers of the same content or grades in other states rather than with teachers in their own communities?

My bet is that the education neighborhood map would look different from just about any other kind of map because, despite strides to broaden the educational world beyond bricks and mortar, schooling is still a very insular project.

If one mapped the teaching profession versus other professions of similar demand, would it look different in terms of mobility and long distance connections? And students—we know there are studies proving that many students sometimes do not participate in meaningful dialogue within the walls of a school day. But are they talking to someone outside those walls through technology and could this be an untapped resource for meeting myriad learning and other needs? We have been trying to set up meaningful distance education for years. Where and between whom is it happening?

How many students and teachers are connecting with colleges and universities in meaningful partnerships? Which ones are doing so? Is it happening more frequently in the urban areas? Not necessarily so, but it would be interesting to know.

Or how about creating a map showing percentages of students going to college and where they go to college, with a special shade of red in those areas where students simply disappear during the high school years and never graduate?

I wonder, too, about transient populations in education. Are the heavier student transient areas also the more heavy teacher transient areas?

Perhaps maps such as these could inform educators about new ways to think of “learning communities” since challenges and solutions are often more regarded when they occur in similar demographic regions.

I have to wonder if my perceptions about these things would be correct. What else, Readers, should we want to discover when it comes to our perception versus reality? I would like to hear your questions.


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