Tag Archives: public schools

BEYOND YOUR SCHOOL’S TATTOO

A few years ago The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology released a study on the trend of tattooing. In it, they estimated that 24% of the population between the ages of 18 and 50 had at least one tattoo. But that was five years ago. It is likely much higher now.

And the most popular tattoo? It is the tribal band, a sun or butterfly, or some Chinese script that one can only hope means what you think it means when you commit to wearing it for the rest of your life.

A tattoo is all about commitment and communicating your “brand”.

So I wonder why our parents and our teachers don’t routinely get tattoos of our school logo. Come to think of it, I see all kinds of tattoos every day at my school, but I have never seen even one that promotes our brand.

That’s troubling. Not because I want to see a bunch of tattoo designs of our school, but because tattoos are the the ultimate expression of a customer’s faithfulness to a product. The single most powerful indicator of customer loyalty is when clients willingly share their positive experience with family and friends and urge them to see for themselves. It is the concept of “net promoter”.

And how do citizens of a capitalist and democratic society express their product loyalty? Through their frequent patronage. By word of mouth. By wearing a tee shirt (Hard Rock Cafe-London?) Through Twitter and Yelp and Facebook.

And by affiliating oneself to an idea… symbolically captured in a tattooed brand: the mercedes benz hood logo, the channel interlocking “c’s”, the nike swoosh, the flirtive persona of the playboy bunny, the venerable “NY” of the New York Yankees.

If you were to Google tattoo designs for Harley Davidson you would find pages and pages of them and no shortage of examples carved into every conceivable body part. It is a small price to pay for attaching oneself to the notion of raw power, independence and engineering excellence. Tattoos are, among other things, metaphoric.

If you Google tattoo designs for your school, on the other hand, chances are you won’t find any. You won’t find my school either and that’s the problem. Our stakeholders would sooner ink images of automobiles or household appliances or tobasco sauce to their forearms than their neighborhood school.

There may be some reasons for that:

• Product brands are familiar and reliable and often represent an attribute that an individual is willing to “advertise” for the rest of his or her life. It is less about the product and more about the metaphor. And our schools don’t make good life-long metaphors.

• When schools do show up as tattoos they are logos for universities like USC or Notre Dame or the bright red “A” of the Crimson Tide. But don’t be mistaken. These tattoos are not in tribute to the math department or to the fine services rendered over in accounting. They represent football teams that win more than they lose. Teams with history and swagger. We all like a winner. The Trojans may be on probation but they certainly aren’t in Program Improvement.

• Perhaps most importantly, if someone is willing to tattoo the icon of a business or product to their body, it is because that brand is incontrovertible and well defined. There is no going back. There is, for example, no debate about who (or what) the Apple or Target icons represent.

The neighborhood elementary school? That’s a different story.

But if people have a positive enough experience in the marketplace, if they are so passionate about a product that they feel it in their bones, if they are willing to shout from the rooftops, to at least buy the (Ferrari) tee shirt until they can afford the car– then you have a brand that works.

And if people are willing to compromise their career aspirations for a visible tattoo, to endure the stinging pain and fuss with the healing process, to brook the criticism from mom and the in-laws, to say nothing of their jealous friends’ incessant chiding–it is only because they believe so deeply in what that brand represents.

And, sadly, that is why there aren’t a lot of public schools represented in tattoos. Neither for metaphoric value. Nor for the sake of sentiment.

When it comes to our experience in public schools, there simply is no “brand” identity that invokes the kind of passion required to allow some 19 year old to carve a Chevy monster truck with Bridgestone tires into your ribcage. We forfeited that responsibility to the marketing genius of politicians who chose instead to brand public schools in a far less generous light: as ineffective, archaic, moribund sinkholes that waste taxpayer dollars.

Time for a different brand. Time to promote the extraordinary capacity of teachers and schools to not only engender amazing academic results in whatever test you want to gives us… but to simultaneously prepare students for a future that they will actually inherit– one that will no doubt require them to think, create, innovate, problem solve, communicate (in multiple languages) and work effectively with others.

What would that brand look like? And would you be willing to tattoo the icon to your body if it all lead to extraordinary results?

(This post also appears on LeaderTalk)

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Filed under charter schools, El Milagro, innovation and change, public education, school reform, teaching

WHY PRESIDENT OBAMA WILL BE OUR GUEST SPEAKER AT EL MILAGRO

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On Tuesday morning President Obama will be speaking to children in schools all across America.  He will deliver the messages that we have spent our careers delivering to our students:  stay in school.  Work hard.  Take responsibility for your education.  Do your homework.  Dream big.

He’s the perfect person to sing such a hopeful tune.  By now we all know from whence this man has come.  Born to an immigrant father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, he grew up, at least for a time, in poverty.  He struggled as a youth to maintain a focus on his education. But ultimately, he graduated from some of the most prestigious universities on the planet– including Harvard Law School.  He became a community organizer to parley his education into some good for others.  He served his community.  He ran for public office.  He expanded his influence.  And in one of the most inspirational stories in our nation’s long tradition of resilient  citizens, he rose above the odds to become the first African American President of the United States.

He’s the guy that wants to step into our classrooms and tell kids that if they work hard and persevere and not make excuses they too can achieve their dream.  He’s an orator.  He is a poet.  He is compelling.  He is engaging.

Tuesday morning when the sun rises on the first day of school across most of America, children will meet their new teacher and new classmates and the televisions will click on and the President will welcome them back.  At least some of them.

gunzjpegAs is the case with all things now in American politics, this too has been spoiled.  The President has been demonized and his intentions sullied by another fight.  The same group of unhinged people who question our President’s legitimacy as an American citizen (Dred Scott?), who challenge his authenticity as an elected official, who carry guns to his public appearances, who freely and publicly characterize him by the twin hot button n-words: “nigger” and “nazi”, who muse that he “is not one of us”, who simultaneously suggest he wants to kill our elders… now suggest he wants to get his hooks into our children’ minds. Christians… sowing the seeds of hatred.

beckKnuckleheads from the far (and not so far) right wing of the Republican Party have managed to cast so many shadows on the President’s address to school children, that most will never hear the message.  Even elected officials have gone so far as to suggest that the president intends to use his “bully pulpit” to foment socialism and spread his radical ideologies  to an unsuspecting captive audience of school kids who just want to know where to store their lunch pail in their new classrooms. 

“As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power. While I support educating our children to respect both the office of the American President and the value of community service, I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda.”  —  Jim Greer, GOP Chair, Florida

“As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality. This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.” — Oklahoma Republican State Senator Steve Russell

North Korea?  Are you freakin’ serious?

What is it about these people?  How far does their hypocrisy go?  I remember when their guy was in office… if you questioned his judgment (?)  or direction you were no less than a traitor to America.  I remember him trying to string two coherent sentences together on any topic.  I remember all the members of his party suddenly running for office on the “family values” ticket… then demonstrating none of the values most families I know would ever espouse.  

I remember their education showhorse called No Child Left Behind.  It was going to spur school reform in America once and for all.  It was going to resurrect our schools and get us back to the basics.  We would be able to expose those schools that aren’t taking care of children– fire the teachers and the principals and allow parents to cut bait if need be and send their kids to schools that were really teaching.  We would even close the achievement gap across racial and socio-economic lines.  And the truth would be told in test scores.

And it was.  And the truth is that No Child Left Behind was never intended to close the achievement gap nor improve the quality of public education for children in all communities across America– which may explain in part why it has done neither.  

So while parents fret over whether they should “allow their child to be exposed to the message from the White House” on Tuesday– the irony is most schools won’t have time to air it anyway.  

And the “lesson plans” and other prepared materials designed to assist teachers in framing class discussions after the President’s address?  The one’s that really have created a collective aneurism among Republicans?  The ones that actually have the audacity to challenge kids to think… that prompts them with such radical questions as “How might you help the president?”  

I can guarantee that schools won’t have time to delve into those either. They will be far too busy with drilling students on basic skills and jumping through the hoops crafted by NCLB.  They will be preparing students to answer the standardized test questions that they will confront in May.  

obamaWhat a shame.  What a loss for those children and their naive parents.  They will miss the point that Barack Obama did not rise to the station of the American Presidency because he can take standardized tests or survive a curriculum so narrowly tuned to reading and math.  He rose to the presidency because he can THINK. He is a reader, a writer, an orator, a lover of art and music and people.  He is a leader.  Spiritual.  Self disciplined and self made.  He is the embodiment of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. He is the very model of what our public schools should strive for. And perhaps that is the biggest fear of all for those on the right:  That our public schools might actually work!  That we might, if untethered from the yoke of mindless standardized testing, reach across the great socio-economic divide and actually raise children from every community and race and ethnicity and gender group– to compete.  Anywhere.  Against anybody. Even to be President of the United States.

DSC_0260This Tuesday the televisions will be on at El Milagro.  We told teachers if they can fit it into their schedules they should.  But it is up to them.  And if parents don’t want their children exposed to this man…  they can opt out.  It is their call.  Their conscious. They can be complicit in the very blatant educational malpractice that began during the Bush presidency if they so choose.  Or they could actually seize the teachable moment and model for their own children that rarest of gifts these days:  the ability to THINK for oneself.

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Filed under El Milagro, President Obama, public education, resiliency, school reform, standardized testing

We Will Arise and Walk Again

mural2I celebrated another birthday this week and I realize with each passing year how much I have learned in my life. Every day, every week, every year.  And the lessons keep coming.  But the ultimate lesson of where we all go from here– no matter how deeply I reflect– I can never quite resolve. I only know that we are here and we are gone.  And that somewhere our spirits and our souls are transformed and we slip quietly out of view of those we leave to the Earth.

In the meantime, we live and we learn.  And we enjoy occasional moments of profound transformation.

flagsThis weekend, we are all on the precipice of such a moment.  One that stirs our history and our hopes. There is an unmistakable spiritual presence emerging even while our nation reels from conditions that might otherwise seem awfully bleak.  In three days, we will arise and walk again.

I am reminded of the dangers of attributing superhuman qualities to one man.  But for nearly a decade Americans as a people have sputtered and flailed and failed mightily to grasp or hold the greatness that we once believed we were pre-ordained to achieve.  Our world is is in turmoil.  The fabric of America, is in tatters.  And we have turned to a person possessed with uncommon wisdom and natural gifts– not the least of which is his deeply inspiring spiritual intelligence.  

daughtersjpgThis week, as he braces for Inauguration Day and the ride of a million lifetimes,  Barack Obama published a letter that he has written to his daughters: “What I Want for You– And Every Child in America”.  In it he says:

“When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me-about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.” 

For those of us who have raised our own children and who know what it means to delay our own personal ambitions and dreams so that our babies might realize theirs– it is an extraordinary admission.  

How many parents have watched their infants sleeping and longed to provide the world for them?  We so desperately want to remove the heartaches and failures and disappointments that might discourage them.  We sacrifice to provide for them.  Each generation stretches to the very boundaries of its collective talent  to make the lives of the next generation that much easier, that much more fulfilled.  It is what parents are expected to do.  “Devotion” is listed in the job description.

dad-daughter1So for his part, Barack Obama has merely ascended to the most difficult job on the face of the earth– to become the most powerful living human being– to make the world a better place for the daughters he loves so dearly.  He has risen above paralyzing political divisions for the opportunity to change the course of America.  To become president, he merely had to transcend centuries of racism, intractable prejudice, and a tortured national history of self-hatred that manifests itself in bigotry and intolerance.father-daughter1

Uncommon devotion.

And he writes:

“That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something.

She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better-and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It’s a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be. 

These are the things I want for you-to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure. 

I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much-although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.”

For those of us who have devoted our life’s work to the service of children– whose schools reflect our own beliefs in the virtues of justice and equality– the Inauguration of Barack Obama is a moment of blessed redemption.  

I forwarded President Obama’s letter to Keenan and Kira and I am looking forward to discussing it with them.  

“I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had .”

I am not usually so reflective on my birthday.  But at this moment, the past and future seem to be aligning.  The lessons of the universe… the mysteries of life.  The devotion of our ancestors… our hopes for our children. Our historical struggle… our resurrection.  

So on we go.  January 20, 2009. We change the world.

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Filed under President Obama, public education