The tale of the pendulum and the bus.

For the first time ever, @the chalkface presents a children’s story.

There once was a shiny pendulum.  It was a happy pendulum.  Everyday it would swing one way and then swing back.  Day after day the shiny pendulum would swing one way and then back.  The pendulum was happy because it always knew that as soon as it would swing so far out one way it would ALWAYS reach a point a swing back.  Over and over again.  Back and forth.  Consistent and predictable.  Life was good for the shiny pendulum.

There once was a yellow school bus.  Legend has it that a long time ago (11-12 years ago) it was happy.  You see back then the bus and the pendulum had very similar lives.  The bus would pick up children in the morning, take them to schools, and then bring them home. Over and over again.  Back and forth.  Consistent and predictable.

However, one day while returning to the parking garage the bus picked up an efficiency expert.  The expert insisted that the bus was performing “below basic” and was “failing.”  According to the expert the bus was costing taxpayers a lot of money.  He said to the bus, “Don’t worry.  I will fix you.”

The next day as the bus left to pick up the children the efficiency expert handed the bus NEW DIRECTIONS.  The efficiency expert reassured the bus that the new directions were well “researched” and supported by many influential organizations and powerful people.  The bus smiled.  The bus was happy.  Today was the day the bus would emerge from those horrible labels of “below basic” and “failing.” 

So off it went following the brand new directions.  The bus happily picked up all the children and then instead of making the usual turn to head back to the school the bus used the efficiency expert’s new directions and went full speed ahead and drove off a cliff.

The end!

The reason I wrote this story is because I have been spending a lot of time trying to help parents understand why opting out of corporate education reform is probably the only method that has any chance of saving our public schools and recognizes the massive Civil Rights violation masquerading as reform.

So I thought about the cause of the resistance to opt out.  Most of it is fear—fear of hurting the school and the teachers.  But maybe the biggest obstacle to opt out is the dominating metaphor that is used to describe reform movements in public education—the pendulum!

So this morning I find out there is a “Don’t Opt Out Facebook page.”  Parents across the country considering opt out were wondering if there was legitimacy to the “Don’t Opt Out” movement.  I decided to try to explain and I sent this email to the concerned parents.

The reason they focus on not opting out is because they have not made the cognitive leap–opt out is not about hurting schools and children.

I have been thinking about this and maybe a metaphor will help explain why opt out is the only option at this moment in history.  For the longest time education reforms have typically been seen as a pendulum.  It swings so far and then swings back.  Therefore the best strategy to take on reforms if they don’t work is to wait! The pendulum will eventually reach a high point and then swing back.  No action required.

However, today this metaphor is a disaster and is killing most of the momentum behind fighting the reform movement.  How about this? We are all on a bus headed towards a cliff.  When people say don’t opt out they are saying, “look there are rules on this bus and we don’t want to hurt others by disobeying the rules.”  Others talk about rearranging seats or decorating the bus differently.  However, none of these acts of compliance will do anything to stop the bus from driving off the cliff.  Therefore opt out is fully recognizing that the bus is headed towards a cliff.  And since this new truth is realized the actions needed to make a difference become much different.  We need to opt out.  We need to stop the bus.  Failure to stop the bus guarantees that ALL will not only be hurt but permanently damaged or destroyed.

It might be extreme but trust me, the reform movement has no intention of changing direction.  The rules that have been put into place have one goal–destroy public education.  If you have a hard time accepting this as reality you need to spend more time reading the work of the reformers.  Go to the Eli Broad web page.  Look at Democrats for Education Reform.  Listen to Michelle Rhee.  They are not talking about helping public schools.  All of their reforms have a single goal and that is to turn public education into an efficient system of curriculum delivery using low paid and unskilled workers (not teachers).  They are driving the bus off the cliff.  The rules on the bus are a distraction from the destination.  That is why we OPT OUT!

Does this help?  We’re not on a shiny pendulum that will finally reach a point and start to return.  We are on a bus headed towards a cliff.  If you’re on this bus with me what are you willing to do to stop the coming disaster?

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  1. No, I don’t see that your analogy helps that much. Its also a little confusing because it is not obvious to the majority that schools (the bus) (are) is going to go over the cliff if they don’t opt out. I think that most people will automatically identify the opting out with the ‘expert’ and the ones who stay on then the good old happy bus with those who don’t opt out.
    I really don’t get it. The internet is buzzing with all this talk about being betrayed by the Administration and being victimized by big business, the Charter school operators, the BRT and on and on. It is all true, of course, but there comes a time for formulating a strategy and harnessing the energy that is out there to get something positive done. I love demonstrations in Washington and all but they belie a belief in the established power structure; like, we act like we expect that Obama is under the evil influence of Arne Duncan or is somehow confused and ‘if only we could get to him and explain how it really is, everything will be alright’. That is not the way it is.
    Your school bus metaphor is totally juvenile. I doubt that this is the level your readers at? I would guess that most of your audience is already convinced that the school bus is headed for the cliff; they need to be told how to react and save the children’s lives. The time to act is now! If we lose this round of battles, it is all over for our civilization. Forget those who need to be baby-talked into realizing what is going on. It’s time to move on to formulation of a strategy.
    The problem is that most of what is available on the internet is beating the same drum (with site-specific variations) or trying to beat each other with the story of the next local eruption (that promises to go viral) and mysteriously cause the Administration to back down. On the other hand, the books on the subject are either striving to be technically or historically correct. If I join up and hit the streets and the tear gas with you all, it would be because my life is already slipping away (I am 77) not because I believe we have a ‘snowball’s chance’.
    Think about it. I have not seen or read a single piece that has laid out a strategy. We are facing a huge power and we are giving it no room to retreat. We are saying “shoot us and make us martyrs so we don’t have to have a plan.” We are headed for a point where thousands of teachers will be locked up while the children are watching. You are rallying the masses to attack a vastly superior force without even giving them a rallying call except a shared knowledge that what they are doing is wrong. Not only will we lose but we will have advanced the cause of the enemy. We are effete because we can’t agree on an alternative plan: we all realize that the states are all having trouble getting money enough to support the system that is in place. We know that we are headed for a two-class economy: the haves in suburban enclaves with their own schools and the rest of us fighting to survive poverty and undernourishment in the inner cities; and, no real estate taxes to pay for inner-city schools. So, where will the money come from? “Duh, who has any money? Oh, the businesses, I guess”. It’s only a case of how it will all shake down.
    So, you want to run the schools in City XYZ? Well, you will have to show us that you can get ‘good teachers’ for bargain prices. Of course there are many variations of the same theme: like, how will the good high schools line up to get their students from which primary schools? Which post secondary schools will align with which high schools and how will these once American and now multinational corporations (MNC’s) make arrangements with various colleges or state universities to sell their Human Resource (HR) packages? And, what role will student tests and VAM type models have in student and teacher and school evaluations?
    We stand at a juncture; our educational wares are on the block to be judged by data coming from high-stakes multiple choice tests. I believe that we do have a choice; there are other teacher-evaluation systems being used; like I somewhere read about one in Cincinnati, I believe. Why can’t we rally our troops around one or two of these observation-based systems and offer it to them as alternatives to VAM? Hasn’t Obama left the door open by giving the state RttT grantees leeway on the percent that VAM will count for teacher and school evaluations? Why can’t all the RttT states get together and modify, say, the Cincinnati system to fit their states? Why can’t we demand to have our own PARCC or Smarter Balanced consortiums to refine these observation-based systems? Like, weren’t we here first?
    If we don’t make this case we are pointed towards giving Obama a big headache without any Aspirin to offer him. Do we want hundreds of good teachers to end up in NDAA facilities with career-ending violations on their records or do we want to make this a fight we can win or at least buy a seat at the table?
    Don’t count on Obama or Duncan to come up with a face saving solution because they have no credibility as being Educators. How do I know that? Because I have read it in dozens of blogs or editorials that I got from the internet. First consider the following quote:
    “When you surround the enemy
    Always allow them an escape route.
    They must see that there is
    An alternative to death.”
    —Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Cloud Hands edition
    The campaign we need to run is to rally Educators behind one or two of these working evaluation systems and get some of this foundation money to fund a BIG conference on existing Education Evaluation Systems and how they can be fit in with the VAM. If I am not mistaken, the RttT grants allow the states to allot as much as 70% of teacher evaluation to other measures. Take that and run with it. We need a banner to carry supporting a well recognized challenger. If we don’t, we are all going to be TKOed in the first round.

    • Stephen,

      You are dead on with all your comments. However, I think you misunderstand my simplistic and childish story. It is very simple. Most people I talk to still don’t really believe that we are on a bus headed for a cliff. They need to realize that if they don’t do something “it’s over.” They can’t offer alternatives because their not convinced of the imminent collapse. This is simply to try to help people understand how bad it is. If they come to this conclusion we will then find alternatives. However, offering alternatives will do nothing unless we all realize we are about to drive off a cliff.

  2. We need illustrations now.


  1. [...] You can read Dr. Slekar tell it like it is @ The Chalk Face. [...]

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