... An immigrant, artisan and waitress
I recently watched a video sent to me by GPAEA Chief Jon Sheldahl, featuring a conversation with Thomas Friedman and Marc Tucker, moderated by Luke Russert for NBC. The video provided a good opportunity to listen to thinkers and authors whom I have read and heard a lot about. Friedman is the author of The World is Flat and That Used to Be Us. FHS Wall of Honor Member Gene Copeland made a gift of Friedman’s second title to me last school year. Marc Tucker is frequently mentioned by Iowa Department of Education Chief Jason Glass, and he has much to say about how American education needs to change. Both Friedman and Tucker see the education system as the best hope for America to retain, or regain, its status as a world leader.
Mr. Russert mentioned that only 8% of Americans have faith in the job Congress is doing, compared to 40% for the IRS. His point was that things must be pretty bleak if that is how we view our elected leaders. He asked the authors if there was a prescription to follow to get out of the fear people are feeling. Friedman answered that education is the key to economic growth in a knowledge economy, and economic growth is the key to national security. He went on to say that critical reasoning and problem-solving are necessary to even get an interview today. Employers want people who not only do their jobs but also invent and re-invent their jobs. In order to produce this kind of worker, our education system needs to lift the bottom achievers to average fast and needs to bring our average learners to the global average. Friedman says that there simply will be no jobs for people who can’t get through college without significant remediation.
In speaking of employment trends, Friedman went on to say, “Average is over.” Because of automation, cheap labor, and cheap genius available in the global economy, bosses have more available to them. People need to find their “extra.” Friedman says extra can’t be taught, only inspired. He says we need to think like an immigrant, an artisan, and a waitress at Perkins to find our extra (hence the title of this article, which sounds like the start of a joke). An immigrant has to figure out where he/she is and how he/she is going to make it. There is no legacy for an immigrant. He/she has to make his/her way. The immigrant is hungry to succeed. An artisan has a craft. He/she puts something extra into the work being done. An artisan takes pride in the work and leaves his/her mark on it or carves his/her initials in the work. An artisan is a skilled worker. The waitress at Perkins was one Friedman encountered in Minneapolis. He and a friend ordered pancakes with fruit, and when she delivered the food, she announced, “I gave you extra fruit.” Friedman said she was thinking like an entrepreneur, and he gave her an extra big tip. She didn’t control much, but she controlled the fruit ladle, and she leveraged that.
Marc Tucker emphasized reform of the education system, with an eye to emulating the highest achieving systems in the world, such as Finland, Canada, Singapore, and Shanghai. His popular book is titled, in part, Surpassing Shanghai. In listening to Tucker, it is clear to me why his message would appeal to state department of education officials. He says the keys to reform are as follows: 1) Rethink local control and local financing of education. 2) Improve teacher quality dramatically. 3) Give state education departments the legitimacy and funding they need to lead change. Tucker notes that the high achieving countries being studied are roughly the size of many states in the United States.
What does this mean for education in Fairfield? We do need to beware what Friedman calls “the worst kind of decline,” which is a slow decline like Iowa is in. We also need to reflect on our own practice and seek improvement so that we don’t fall prey to what Friedman calls the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” We need to push ourselves and have high expectations of our schools and community. One way to do this is with an OODA Loop, like fighter pilots use. OODA stands for “Observe, orient, decide, and act.” If we were engaged with an enemy fighter plane, the more quickly and correctly we could observe, orient, decide, and act, the better our chance of survival. I really don’t think it is too dramatic to say this is the kind of challenge we face in our schools and communities if we hope to maintain a high standard of living and place of world prominence. The OODA Loop is what we are seeking in FCSD. We want to improve our ability to gather, analyze, and use data to make decisions about our instructional practices and programs so that we can act on behalf of our students.
Another education thinker and author, Jamie Vollmer, has visited FCSD and spoken to our staff. Vollmer does not share the view that local control is part of the problem. In fact, he sees it as part of the solution, particularly if we have strong community partnerships. Part of Vollmer’s address to FCSD teachers August 17 shared ideas from a chapter of his book Schools Cannot Do It Alone. On the Informal Track of what he calls the Great Conversation, Vollmer suggests five steps everyone can take that cost nothing and will help the public realize the great things happening in our schools. I will paraphrase the five “s’s” he shared here: Shift your attention to the positive; Stop bad-mouthing one another in public; Share something positive about what is going on; Start now; Sustain the effort.
Public education is critically important for our country and for the future success of our community. Fairfield and the surrounding rural areas and towns that make up Fairfield CSD provide a great place to work, raise families, and educate the youth. The school system is committed to trying to continually improve the job we are doing, and we are eager to collaborate with the community. We can do this one family at a time as well as with local business and industry. We want our school and communities to grow and thrive together.
I welcome your ideas and involvement in this process and welcome your views.
Art Sathoff is Fairfield Community School District Superintendent.