Saturday, June 18, 2005

Public education would work if the customer would change

The Greenville News editorialist Nell Stewart could not have more clearly highlighted the innovator's dilemma in public education.

Public schools are designed for children of middle income, educated parents. It is assumed that parents will be active in the PTA, will be close partners with their children's teachers, and will do hours of homework with their children when they get home.

But what if parents either can not or will not be as active in their children's education as middle income, educated parents?

Nell's solution is the parents must change. "All of us must be responsible for our own actions, and effectively help others to accept their own responsibility."

Failing organizations usually blame the customer. You hear, "Customers don't' get it - there is no way we can do it for that cost ... or in that time frame ... or at that level of quality. If customers would only change we could be successful."

No where in Nell's editorial is there any suggestion that the model of delivering education must change. No where does Nell appreciate that who is likely to identify novel new ways of delivering innovative education are educational entrepreneurs. No where does Nell appreciate that entrepreneurs have no opportunity to do what only they can do best in the current system; that to have fundamentally better public education, we need new and innovative methods of delivering education to those poorly served by the current system.

Until we understand that and act on it, we won't make the progress we need to in becoming more globally competitive as a community.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

When waves crash on the beaches of our lives

We plan. We strategize. We pontificate. We enjoy the illusion that we are in control. And then the waves come crashing over the sea walls we erect to protect ourselves from the outside world.

I was sharing some work problems with a friend earlier in the week, and she asked was I happy. I told her about another friend who had a critically ill relative and said that helps put our problems in perspective. My friend got defensive and said there was more to life than not having pain, which wasn't what I said, but ...

Then Friday, my mother's minister called. Mama had been teaching Vacation Bible School earlier in the week and had gotten disoriented and confused. She picked up her grandchild to take him home, only the child she picked up was not her grandchild. With the child screaming, mama argued with the other workers that she was right and to let her go and ...

When I called mama Friday to ask if she was OK, she insisted everything was fine. It seemed like a casual check-up call at first, until I asked if she had become disoriented earlier in the week. "Well no, why would you ask that?" As I got more specific, she got more irritated. "Who have you been talking to?" Getting off the phone, she thanked me for being concerned, insisted she was quite alright, but that wasn't the last call of the day ...

Saturday, mama's first cousin and I went to Charleston to bring mama to Anderson to stay with her cousin for at least a few days. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch. Our cousin ordered a salad with cheese and broccoli soup. Mama was looking at her menu and didn't remember what the soup choices were, so she asked the waitress again. "A salad with cheese and broccoli soup is what I'll have, too," mama ordered ...

Within ten minutes, we had gone to the salad bar and were back at our table when they brought the soup. The waitress gave one soup to our cousin and the other to my mother. My mother said she didn't order the soup, and when we told her she did, she got very insistent that she didn't ...

My stomach tightened. The pain on my face as I looked at our cousin said more than I could have verbalized at that point.

We don't know what's wrong. Mama has been under a lot of stress. Is it as simple as that? Did she have a small stroke? Could it be Alzheimer’s, with all the terror and dread that implies? We just don't know.

Our cousin and I later discussed what we might need to do. She said, "I'll take care of your mother, but you'll have to take care of the house in Charleston, contact her stockbroker about her investments, and get her bills paid."

I stopped by my mother's house about a month ago for a very brief visit. She was anxious about her finances and asked me to go downtown to meet with her stockbroker. I had to get back home to Greenville that day so didn't have time. I've meant to schedule a day to do that, but never did. I wish I had. Maybe mama was trying to tell me something she couldn't tell me directly. Now I'll have to find the time in my calendar to attend to what I should have paid attention to already.

When we got to my house Saturday night, my wife had been working hard all day fixing a wonderful dinner. It was delightful and comforting given the day that we'd had. After dinner, my mother was off to our cousin's house to stay for awhile.

We do have protection from the major storms in our lives. But it is not because we are in control ... in an instant that can be exposed for the illusion that it is. Often our sea walls are the people who love us and do what they can to protect us from the most violent waves.