Make No Sense

646. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

I’m in Hutchinson, Kansas at the Ramada Inn. In the center courtyard of the Ramada is a swimming pool with an astronaut theme: there are mock lunar modules in the center of the pool. Over in the corner is a mural of the moon complete with 3 dimensional astronauts skipping across the lunar surface. It’s late at night and my room looks out on the moon pool so the effect is more bizarre than it might seem in the light of day. I’d wake my inner sociologist for a look but he’d snarl, “You woke me for a peak at Americana!” and then I’d be in hot water for the next few days. Did I mention there is a hot tub in the lunar landscape? I turns out that Hutchinson is the home of a most amazing museum of the cosmos. There is usually sense to be made and sometimes sense-making reveals a beautiful treasure.

When I try to make sense of education in this nation I hear Doug Durham’s voice echoing in my mind. I used to stomp into Doug’s office when the world seemed particularly cruel to students and shout, “But it doesn’t make any sense!” Doug would swivel his big bear body in his big swivel chair and say, “The trouble with you is that you want it to make sense. Stop trying to make sense of it and you’ll be happier.” I didn’t like that response the first time or the twentieth time I heard him say it – but he was right. Stop trying to make sense of the nonsense and you’ll be happier. Call the nonsense what it is, nonsense.

I understand the governor of Nebraska created a list ranking every school in the state, all 240 schools ordered from first to last according to a performance criteria. You’ll not be surprised to learn that there is absolutely no point to the list; it is nonsense though very many people, mostly non-educators, take it very seriously. It is as arbitrary as the test scores that drive the notion of ranking schools. Actually, if you squint at the list and you will see that the schools with the most funding are generally at the top of the governor’s list and those with the least money are generally at the bottom. If it was a list of funding inequity it would have meaning but instead it pretends to be a list of performance and so ignores the obvious.

I woke up my inner sociologist when I heard about the governor’s list and he was quite curt with me. He sneered, “You woke me up for this? Are you kidding! There’s no mystery here! This list makes perfect sense!” he snarled. “When in the history of western civilization has a privileged NOT stacked the deck against the rest of society and called it high performance?” He huffed as he rolled over saying, “Idealist!”

And now I’m in Hutchinson, Kansas. There is an amazing and inspirational history of the race to the moon told here in Hutchinson. There is also the most inspirational educator I’ve ever met.

All the while, a governor makes a list and checks it twice, to be poor is to be naughty and to be privileged is to be nice. And I’m enjoying this moment in the Ramada Inn precisely because there is some sense to be made of an astronaut standing in the corner by the swimming pool and none to be made of the governor’s notorious list. Won’t it be a lovely day when instead of list making we put our minds to creating great learning with the same verve that we used when once upon a time we made it our task to put a human being on the moon?

One Response

  1. It is a beautiful gift to awake each morning and remember that we are in choice. In all the action of the day…choice. What I have especially gained through knowing you, David, is a reminder of what ‘nonsense’ (or great action) I’m going to feed with my attention. Reading this piece causes me to do just that, remember that my response, my attention, my action feeds something. Let it be the one that makes the most sense.

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