On the third floor of Paul Robeson High School, a weathered pile of bricks in Crown Heights, Brooklyn that’s closing next spring due to failing graduation rates, an IBM consultant named Ann McDermott is lecturing to a 10th-grade class of mostly poor, mostly black, mostly boys about the history of the Web.
“Does anyone here know what Tim Berners-Lee did?” she asks, referring to the British computer scientist who invented it.
“World. Wide. Web,” one student murmurs, seemingly bored by the question’s ease.
McDermott nods and continues. “He created it so scientists could communicate. Now we use it to watch cat videos.” The class cracks up. “Who knows how a webpage works?”
It’s not an academic question. These students are enrolled in P-TECH — New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School — a new model vocational school designed in collaboration between New York City Schools, the City University of New York and, most notably, IBM, for whom McDermott sells servers. The city, one of McDermott’s clients, provides the funds, facilities and students. CUNY applies a curriculum borrowed from its Early College Initiative, in which students earn degrees without ever leaving high school. IBM supplies internships, mentors and volunteers such as McDermott, as well as the promise of a well-paying job upon graduation.
Five years after the world’s second-largest publicly traded technology company began urging mayors to build “Smarter Cities” using Big Data (at correspondingly big prices), Big Blue has taken it upon itself to reinvent one of any city’s pivotal institutions: public schools.
Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a senior fellow of the New Cities Foundation — where he leads the Connected Mobility Initiative — and the director of strategy for LACoMotion, a new mobility festival coming to the Arts District of Los Angeles in November 2017.
He is also a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a contributing writer for Fast Company and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.
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Inc. | March 2015
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Global Solution Networks | December 2014
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Harvard Business Review | October 2014
Inc. | April 2014
Atlantic Cities | March 2014
Wired (UK) | October 2013
Next American City | August 2013
The New York Times | April 2013
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