Andrew Mangino: Bestirring a Movement, Ben Franklin-Style

Andrew ManginoAndrew Mangino and Benjamin Franklin could have been best friends. They each got their start in journalism, explored a bit of politics, and became change makers in their own communities. 

Franklin helped create America. Mangino helped create The Future Project, a movement aimed at bringing education alive in what he considers the broken ecosystem of our schools, where potential gets locked up in bureaucracy and hopelessness. 

Follow the inspirationCertainly, Franklin would never have tolerated such dismal mediocrity. But as he counseled 300 years ago, We may make these times better, if we bestir ourselves.

The Future Project, based in New York City, takes a group of carefully selected “Dream Directors,” usually bright, motivated young men and women from the community, and brings them right into the schools to “fire people up” and get them thinking about their ideas, their plans, their sense of purpose.  

The goal is not to point out the shortcomings of teachers and the curriculum, according to Mangino, but to help students choose the narratives of their own lives. They are ready and equipped to serve, he says—they just need to be pushed to their limits.

In Franklinesque fashion, The Future Project tries to have a little fun with the movement. “We found in the world of transformational education that a sense of humor in missing,” Mangino says. “Young people are full of such wonderful imagination and laughter. School should be a place where people are laughing and having fun and engaging their whims.”

The Future Project helps students gather up the energy that falls through the cracks of a typical school day and harness it into projects that have immediate currency in their own lives: reducing violence among youth, raising the self-esteem of middle school girls, writing rap music without curse words, and transforming their schools through art.

“We are very much out to change culture, to show entire schools that everything they’ve always wanted they already have, to challenge people to channel small actions into bigger actions and demonstrate to the world and to yourself what lies within you,” he says.

Mangino, recently named to the Forbes “30 Under 30” list of social entrepreneurs, was inspired to cofound The Future Project after reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Franklin, who rallied the resources and talents of his own generation to build a new nation.

“The character of the Dream Director is very much inspired by the character of Ben Franklin,” Mangino explains. “He had this way of straddling the line between idealism and pragmatism. He had a crazy big dream for his community, Philadelphia, and ultimately, the whole country.  t the same time, he was a sensible pragmatist who could figure out how to get from here to there.”

Mangino, like Franklin, made his initial public splash in the newspaper business. He had his own crazy big dream at the age of five, when he started his first newspaper, reporting “hard-hitting news” about things happening around his block. Eventually, he became the game-changing editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, and then in college, of the Yale Daily News.

Reporting for The Yale Daily News exposed Mangino to some of the educational problems facing the surrounding community of New Haven, Conn., where he encountered the same apathy and disengagement he had witnessed in his own high school. Later, he spent some time as a blogger and speechwriter in D.C. and realized that politics was “just a means of achieving something larger, of re-electrifying America and instilling a sense of possibility.”

Mangino has now circled his way back to the place where he feels a personal sense of urgency to make change: in the schools. He insists that the future is bright, and that good things will happen in our educational system if we act now.  

Benjamin Franklin never waited to put something crucial in motion when he saw what his community needed. Whether it was a fire department, a library, or some homespun wisdom from Poor Richard—he showed people how they could make their lives better today. You may delay, he quipped, but time will not.

At The Future Project, Mangino is of the same mindset: “Everything happens now. That’s one of our core messages. Start it today. That message, weirdly enough, is not present in our society right now.”

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