Process Post: Contemplating Juxtapositions

Juxtaposition is a powerful device. Just this morning, on my walks with Lucy, I listened to a podcast from The Moth:

Martha Manning: What Can’t Be Fixed
Posted: Mon, 11 Jun 2012 15:25:03 +0000
Play Now
A therapist, and her car, break down.

Martha Manning tells a beautiful story about her patient/friend Ann confronting cancer, and she juxtaposes this heartfelt tale with another story about her car and a mechanic.

My thoughts this morning were in interesting juxtaposition to the story by Martha Manning. For whatever reason, I wondered about why I have made some of the decisions that I have made in my educational career. In particular, two decisions stood out:

  1. In the summer of 1997, I decided to write a new economics curriculum for my eighth graders and to abandon the textbook that had been used for many years. [Choices, the resulting curriculum, still remains, but that is another story – it is long overdue for an abandonment and complete reinvention, in my humble opinion!] Why, in my fourth year of teaching, and only my second year at that particular school, did I decide to do such a thing? And why did my colleague who taught the other sections of Economics 8 agree to such a thing? And why did my principal trust me to do such a thing?
  2. In 2010, I led a launch of a new course called Synergy. My teaching and learning partner, Jill Gough, and I piloted a course that would refuse to be silo-ed into any one department, and the primary curriculum would be community issues problem identification and solution. And it would be heavily assessed, but non-graded. Why, at that particular point in my teaching and administration work, did I decide to do such a thing? Why did I want to break away from the departmentalized, subject-content system and experiment with a course that hypothetically would match more closely the mixed-up, complex world for which we say we are preparing students?

Juxtaposition is a powerful device. In 1997, my courtship and upcoming marriage to my wife, Anne-Brown, was juxtaposed with my decision to write Choices. In 2010 (and even years earlier during the design and creation phases), my rearing and raising of my two sons was juxtaposed with my decision to launch Synergy.

Now, in hindsight, I wonder about how those major family occurrences – those dramatically wonderful life changes – influenced my educational-career choices. In addition to being committed to research and experimentation, I think my marriage year and my childrearing drastically influenced my decisions to create Choices and Synergy. With my marriage, I believe that I identified more strongly with the parents who send their children to school. I believe that I could put myself in their shoes as life partners who were contemplating a family and what it means to be a family in this city, state, nation, and world. And, certainly with my raising of my sons, I viewed each and every student differently. In the faces of the 561 children at school, I saw the faces and hearts and minds of my own two children.

And I want more for them than the outmoded, outdated portions of school that reside in an industrial-age era. Don’t get me wrong – I love school. I believe in school. But I think school needs some significant R&D work! And I would like to be part of that team – those teams – of people who are working tirelessly to review, reset, re-imagine, re-purpose, revise and re-invent school. I want something different for my boys and for all of the children that remind me of my boys. I would love for school to be more relevant and less silo-ed. I would love for school to be less grade-oriented and more feedback and assessment oriented. I would love for school to more closely resemble the world in which we are preparing our students to live and work.

Interestingly (to me), as I sit and type, I am realizing that my 1997 decision about Choices was also juxtaposed with my contemplations about graduate school – would I study the intersections of economics and anthropology, or would I study the complexities of education? And, in 2010, juxtaposed with my decision to pilot Synergy, I was getting much more immersed in blogging and the blog-o-sphere – reading and writing fairly voraciously about what was happening in schooling and education across the planet. Those windows of insight – both those lenses of family and those lenses of my own professional learning and contemplation – made me want desperately to be more involved in the team of people “trying to build a better lightbulb.”

And so, this morning, I face another juxtaposition. Today, I begin officially at Unboundary, serving as the director of educational innovation. For the past few months, I have received some interesting reactions from people about my decision to explore education and schooling from a different perspective than that of an “active school person” teaching quintessential classrooms of students and administrating a faculty. Some have accused me of abandoning education and schooling. Others, of course, have been incredibly supportive and excited by my explorations and intended discoveries. For I do not believe I am abandoning schools or education. I do not think I am “selling out” to the corporate sector. I see that I am working on the next chapter of my education and learning book. I see that I am striving to serve as an operator at the intersection of what school has been, what school could be, and what strategic design and significance consulting can teach us about “schools” of the future.

As Martha Manning says in her story, “Some things just cannot be fixed.” Nevertheless, I am overjoyed to be working in a new type of research laboratory to experiment with the endless possibilities of what school could be. Maybe school doesn’t need fixing. Maybe school cannot be fixed. But school can learn, and school can change. In fact, that is the business of schools – learning and change. So…let’s make it so.

Here’s to the next chapter. Here’s to the juxtaposition of school, education, strategic design, and significance consulting. It’s not about fixing things. It’s about learning and serving.

6 thoughts on “Process Post: Contemplating Juxtapositions

  1. Pingback: Running Thoughts: A Thinking Mashup « A Retrospective Saunter

  2. Interesting to consider the things transpiring in our personal lives as we make important professional decisions. I know people who try to keep the two entirely separated, but I’ve never been able to do so–nor do I desire to.

    I made a strong personal connection with what you want for your sons and I love that you wrote: “I want something different for my boys and for all of the children that remind me of my boys. I would love for school to be more relevant and less silo-ed. I would love for school to be less grade-oriented and more feedback and assessment oriented. I would love for school to more closely resemble the world in which we are preparing our students to live and work.” Nicely stated, sir.

    Best wishes as you start the new position. I know you will accomplish much, and I hope our paths cross again soon.

    • Philip, on this first page of my next chapter, I really appreciate you stopping by to read and comment. When so many school mission statements include the concept of “whole child,” I do not understand how or why people try to separate personal and professional beyond logical necessities. So, I agree with you completely about not desiring to disconnect the two. Our filters for decision making are fascinating, and I believe that they deserve reflection and careful understanding. By doing so, we coach ourselves into knowing why we make the decisions we do.

      Thanks so much for reflecting back the part about what I want for school for my boys and the other children I tended to think of as “my own” in so many ways.

      I see our paths as interwoven and interconnected, so I know we’ll cross again soon and often. I was intrigued by #cistudy last night. I am assuming that this is Creating Innovators study group. Good stuff!

      • Yes. #cistudy is the Creating Innovators study group. I’ve read the first chapter but still need to blogmy notes and a reflection. Would love you to join the convo if you have time on a Sunday night. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s