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Right Clothes, Wrong Emperor!

A week doesn’t go by that I don’t read or hear a criticism about schools that, to its originator, makes sense. I’m sure the writer or speaker is as frustrated as I am about the conditions that education must respond to today, but more frustrating to me is the nature of their frustration.

In fact, I sometimes feel as the boy must have in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” who was ignored when he told the truth about what he saw — specifically that there was no “there” there.

As I recall the fable, the Emperor was provided with imaginary clothes and, through peer pressure, made to believe that they were real. Other people went along with it because the Emperor was not necessarily a fool. After all, vivid descriptions of the clothes had been provided by “expert” tailors. They wouldn’t lie. And, moreover, the Emperor had seen pictures or read descriptions of how they looked on others in “What Works” catalogues.

But for me, here’s where that metaphor stops, and my frustration increases. Today, we have many new practices intended to clothe our “barren” schools. The “clothes” are real. They work, and many who have tried on the separate pieces have recognized their value. But this time, there’s no Emperor!

More exactly, the scope and nature of the connected, whole “body” the clothes are designed to fit is not the structure most of the clothing designers have assumed it is.

Beliefs about the school system, the presumed structure serving as the mannequin for effective practices, are proving to be false as we learn more about how people learn and work.

We’ve been using a picture drawn from assumptions of why and how organization’s work [or should work].  From these assumptions we’ve drawn the “body” in pyramid-shaped charts that seem useful for deploying resources, but which strangely never portray how the organization’s work gets done.

If you’re interested in how this could have happened check out Right Clothes, Wrong Emperor (2000), and for deeper understanding Mapping the Natural Territory.

And if you are concerned more with reality than metaphors, check out Making Sense Through a Systemic leadership and Management Lens. Then think about today’s frustrated “tailors” of new practices — foundations, policymakers, corporate CEO’s. Note how they have continued to hit the wall of non-sustainability and downshifted from “system” change to fixing its parts. Could they be applying the “clothes” of sound learning practices to an assumed structure that exists only on paper organizational charts?

What would it look like if their change strategies were driven by schools’ natural systems of work? Catching them doing something right.

This site’s purpose is to help question these assumptions so that school systems can support the work of natural learners — both children and adults. In future postings we will specifically address how this can be applied to

(1) President Obama’s strategy for “rethinking education” to produce a “New Vision for a 21st Century Educational System.” And

(2) a unique role certain corporate CEO’s can play in facilitating it.

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