Tag Archives: tattoos


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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It is a rainy Christmas Day in San Diego and I am not thinking about gifts as much as I am thinking about how children are gifted…

And how we have tried so hard for so long to defy NCLB’s gravitational pull toward the homogenization of our curriculum by stubbornly celebrating the multiple intelligences…

And how we might be even more effective when we return to school in January if we can continue to recognize the many ways that children can be gifted. Or intelligent.

And how we so casually recite the 7 intelligences as if we were naming the days of the week or Disney’s dwarfs: verbal, mathematical, spatial, musical, interpersonal, Saturday, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, Grumpy, Sneezy, Dopey… 

guitarAnd how we have come to accept Gardner’s word as Gospel when it comes to intelligence and how we weave his word into our work– or we do not…

And how the newest “intelligence” that Howard Gardner identifies—the one that we haven’t quite figured out how to recognize (let alone celebrate)– is the one he simply calls the spiritual intelligence…

And how sometimes I think that the spiritual intelligence is the strongest of my intelligences, and sometimes I can hardly find it at all…

And then on this rainy Christmas Day when I should be playing with my daughter’s new PSP I am instead reflecting on my students and my colleagues and my family and what a collective gift they are to me….

And so, for the moment, I resolve to seek the gifts we find in others and continue the journey to wherever the spiritual intelligence might take me…

And I wonder where your gifts have taken you. 


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time2Generation We kids are artists, chess players, musicians, singers, designers, athletes, dancers, actors, playwrights, fashion innovators, tech-savvy inventors, engineers, space travelers, environmental activists, civil rights activists, and scholars. They are forward thinking, technologically gifted (i.e., connected), intensely socially integrated, and ethnically diverse. Many of them just helped elect the first African American president in our nation’s history. They are roughly between the ages of 8 and 30.

So is it me? Or have we somehow managed to reduce their brilliance to the rather narrow band of competencies once considered appropriate for 19th century prairie schools?

They are, after all, judged in our schools on their ability to select one pre-ordained “correct” answer from a list of 4 possible choices on sterile and standardized tests designed independently by each state. States which, by the way, get to test whatever they want to test as long as they test that which is valued by one very onerous and unfunded mandate called No Child Left Behind.

prairie-school-21The education of Generation We has in effect been reduced to basic skills in reading, grammar rules, math, and test taking. In response to the accountability and testing movement, we have regressed toward a narrow curriculum once quaintly defined in one-room prairie school houses as the “3R’s”: readin’, ritin’, and ‘rithmetic. (At least ritin’ requires thinkin’. ) Now the curriculum focus is defined by W.O.T.T! What? What’s On The Test. As in…”Today, class, we will study whatever’s on the freakin’ test”!!!!!

But if we are still capable of learning anything we should have learned by now that one of the defining characteristics of Generation We is that they are not going to be pigeon-holed in percentiles and proficiency levels. 

Keenan is a perfect example. He is not particularly strong in ‘readin’, ritin’, or rithmetic”. But his short term and long term memory is so acute he memorizes song lyrics the first time he hears them. He masters technology the moment he touches it: cell phones, laptops, I-pods, video games. (I wonder why they even bother to print owner’s manuals and directions any more… Gen-We kids don’t use them!)

aAnd he is a walking billboard for Avalon Tattoo in Pacific Beach. He is running out of space on his otherwise beautifully sculpted body to permanently ink icons or sayings or cryptic celtic designs. He designs is own tattoos because he can. It is his body and maybe after 12 years of captivity in someone else’s definition of art and literacy his designs are liberating. At one time he might have passed as an anti-social biker or a carnival ride operator or an island warrior. Today, his Facebook page has hundreds of “friends” from all over the world–most of whom have liberating tats of their own!

Throughout his school experience he was warned that he has to score Proficient on the California Standards Test and pass the High School Exit Exam or he’ll be doomed to a lifetime of failure. What does a tech-savvy, socially connected, Generation We kid with a superb memory and a willful defiance of traditional school norms do with his life when he grows up and struggles with the “readin’, ritin’, and rithmetic'” that we told him was so important?

He becomes fluent in American Sign Language. It comes as natural as new cell phone protocols. He remembers every gesture and symbol from the instant he learns it. He has mastered a skill set that he can actually use in the service of others; a vocation that is not tattoo-aversive.

Seems like we could learn from kids like Keenan that our schools should not be designed by educrats obsessed with the prairie grass that they see waving in their rear-view mirror.

Now let’s see. How do you “sign” the word Gifted? It’s not on the test.



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