Tag Archives: public education


MORE STORIES from “Fighting For Ms. Rios”:

Now that my book is published and available (even for your iPad) through Amazon, I want to resurrect my blog.  There are a lot of really good posts here. So I’ll highlight different stories from Fighting for Ms. Rios and connect them back to a previous post.  It all comes full circle anyway.

BookCoverImageAiden is clearly blessed with many talents: he is an amazing writer, of course.  He is athletic.  He seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to adult culture in schools.  And he is quiet capable of defending himself in a fistfight.

Other interesting talents emerge from time to time– but one of the more peculiar ones is his awareness of when he is invisible to adults.  It’s hard to tell how literal Aiden wants his readers to take these passages, but they are definitely there for a reason.

On his first day at school, on the blacktop, he hears a conversation between a teacher and a parent.  How does he hear it?

I always seem to overhear those kinds of conversations between adults—maybe because I am invisible to them.

He overhears Wanda and Ms. Rios speaking about Raymond. And later, when Craigy gets himself in trouble for bringing a knife to school (Carving Up Craigy), much of Aiden’s narration comes from being invisible.

I wondered how I could have sat through that entire conversation and how it never once occurred to Señora Principal Nuñez or the Compliance Director to send me back to class. But I guess it didn’t. And I remained strangely, invisibly, witness to every word.

invisiblePerhaps it’s just a sneaky literary trick that Aiden is invisible and privy to information that normal kids wouldn’t have at school– if it weren’t one troubling detail.  They are often invisible.  Adults run the place.  They call the shots.  They determine who comes and who goes and at what time kids eat and go to the bathroom and play with their friends.  It’s all about command and control.  And when the adults step off-stage they do so in places where the kids aren’t allowed to go:  the office or the teacher’s lounge or the lunchroom or parking lots or the fast food restaurant down the street.

Some of this is just a matter of practicality. Adults in the workplace have different needs and privileges than children in a school.   But what does it mean when a child feels invisible in his own school?  He has no value? No relevance?  Nothing to offer? No wonder Aiden is so insistent that the adults know his name!
Schools often describe themselves as being student-centered– they aspire to focus all their attention and all of their decision-making around what is best for their students.  That is a worthy mission.  But if they could hear their students speak, if the truth was made manifest, how many are falling through the cracks and chasms simply because they are invisible?

“Carving Up Craigy” is from THE FOURTH JOURNAL: Virtuosos

Leave a comment

Filed under children at risk, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gifted children, public education, school reform, spiritual intelligence


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)

Leave a comment

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



blackberryTwitter the whales.  That’s what you do when they are left out of the curriculum. At least that is what connected parents are doing.

A recent Washington Post article described how tech-savvy parents across the country are forcing school boards and superintendents and principals to knuckle under to their avalanche of Twitters, texts, e-mails and blogs demanding their local flavor of change.  I read about it on Dangerously Irrelevant (one of my sources of professional reflection) and found the gleeful comments of fellow readers surprising.  As if school leaders don’t have enough of a mountain to climb now they have to brace for a Twitter campaign to deliver the community’s “no confidence” vote. The anonymous nature of these tools creates some real ethical challenges for school leaders pushing hard on organizational change. (How do most people respond to unsigned complaint letters?)  

The blog drew favorable comments from parents and university educators who seemed to regard this development as a final tipping point in finally straightening out those screwed up public schools.  I thought it was interesting for different reasons:  perhaps tech-savvy parents can now hold universities accountable too.

For better or worse our universities have long served as the R&D branch of public education. Published scholars in our post-secondary schools of education emerge as the industry experts. K-12 educators  worship at the altars of countless consultants and college professors and attribute the weight of the Gospel to their words.  And that would be ok if it wasn’t for the fact that when it actually comes to teaching and learning…  the very last place to go to find the expert practitioners of effective pedagogy would be a college classroom!

images1-2For example: this week I was asking Kira about her Marine Biology class. Although her college is 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean, they will not once visit the tidepools or watch the annual migration of the gray whales or stop by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography or even go to Sea World.  She has one class in a “lecture hall” where 150 students passively take notes from a “professor” inculcating his world view with the help of last year’s powerpoint.  Not very enlightened.  I wonder who I can Twitter about that.

Then Keenan has a class at San Diego State that requires students to go on-line for many of the lessons. It is very economical in that it saves everybody from having to show up for class… but adds to students’ stress (and expense) as they attempt to navigate the idiosyncrasies of another professor’s poorly designed website.  And what do they get when they finally break past the bonds of clumsy technology:  a talking-head video of– you guessed it– last year’s powerpoint.  Or text they could have just Googled.

sdsujpegAren’t these university professors–these giants of the trade–  reading their colleague’s stuff.  Marzano? Bloom?  Gardner? Freire? Cooperative learning? Gradual Release? Are you kidding me? Why aren’t they teaching each other?

An unfair generalization?  No doubt.  Of course there are extraordinary teachers in the university system and some schools have a lot more of them than others.  But if we are going to paint public education with such a broad brush at the K-12 level, it applies all the more in our universities in whom we trust the preparation of future teachers and leaders.  

The tail is wagging the dog. Americans intent on promoting school reform would do well to shift their gaze from the university system to the real experts in teaching and learning:  those high performing elementary school educators who engender extraordinary academic results in spite of challenging environmental factors, in spite of an upside down school system, in spite of the perception that public schools need to be “reformed”, and in spite of the continued reverence for bad teaching that is too often modeled by university-based “experts” that they turn to for answers.  The real experts, it seems, reside in places like El Milagro.


Maybe engaging all these parents and community-members who are technologically connected and bent on improving instruction in their children’s schools is not a bad idea. If it works at the local high school, surely it will work at the university too.

So let’s Twitter the school’s president and get Kira an audience with the great gray whales.


1 Comment

Filed under California charter schools, El Milagro, public education, Uncategorized