Saturday, May 3, 2014

Overcoming Giants

In one of my Amazon addiction frenzies in recent months, I ordered Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath.  Although I skimmed several chapters upon its arrival, I just got around to reading it cover to cover.  I grabbed it on my way out the door for a cross-country plane trip, thinking I could read it without a highlighter and ink pen in my hand.  Good thought, but I just don’t seem to be able to read without utensils at the ready.

After all, good writing resonates with the reader.  And because I read through the lens of an educator, I relate most of a writer’s points to teaching and learning. Thoughts must be captured.

So now, a week after this good read, I’ve returned to the highlights and added sticky note tags to some of the ideas that triggered my thinking.  Habits of a non-fiction bibliomaniac. 

Citing numerous examples, Gladwell posits that underdogs often overcome giants through unheralded means.  Such was the case when our fledgling charter school launched in the fall of 2000.  Few people believed the doors would ever open to students, and skeptics doubted it would last.  Despite many hurdles that threatened its very existence, and including being such a new phenomenon that an employee in the state’s Department of Education insisted that charters were private schools (yes, that really happened!), the school is completing its 14th year of operation and will be sending its ninth graduating class off to college in the fall.  No small accomplishment. The underdog has survived, meeting challenge after challenge. 

As Gladwell writes, “much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.”  He goes further to say, “the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise have seemed unthinkable.”

In shaping and building this charter school from vision to reality to durable fixture in the educational landscape I have experienced what Gladwell describes as compensation learning: “what is learned out of necessity is inevitably more powerful than the learning that comes easily.”

Perhaps that is one reason that I continue to be perplexed when someone suggests that my background as a charter school employee is underappreciated by traditional school leaders. (“Charters are just an experiment.  You don’t have the same kind of students we have.”) Hmmm. 

Are we that shallow in education that we cannot accept that one-size-fits-all is an inappropriate educational model?  Every child deserves a quality education in an environment conducive to his/her learning style and needs; different children thrive in different environments.  For some, independent schools are the right match; for others, charter schools, traditional public schools, parochial, Montessori, or home schools are the right match.  Regrettably, many have limited family resources, as well as limited options available in their communities.

By opening our hearts and minds to other models of schooling and encouraging leaders to cross from one model to another, we can bring together the best aspects and strategies of a variety of models.  And what better way to meet the needs of all children? 

We continue to have to overcome giants.

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