Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Modern Tale: The Yellow Brick Road To Nowhere.... (Part 1)

It is time for another modern fairy tale, or as some of you may conclude after reading it, a horror story, for this is not a story with a happy ending.  

There used to be a Land of Educational Contentment. Parents moved there because the schools and teachers were outstanding, children loved to go to school and were excited to learn something new every day. Suddenly one day, the sky darkened and a fast moving tornado swept through the town, leaving devastation in its wake. The tornado scooped up teachers and students and carried them to a far away land, dropping them from the sky onto a vast landscape of unknowns. 

When the teachers and students woke up from the storm, they found themselves in a field surrounded by a long, winding, yellow brick road, a road that the natives of this foreign land told them would lead to a magical place called the Emerald City, ruled by a Great Leader and 7 Trustees.  There they would find the crown jewel of all educational systems, much better than the one they’d left behind in the Land of Educational Contentment. The enthusiastic natives offered them a school bus, the Emerald City’s best bus driver, a tour guide and two assistants, and told them that if they used these expert navigators, they would not get lost. They were told that the journey to the Emerald City would take some time, but not to worry because the path was clear and their destination would be reached. Unbeknownst to them, deception lurked in the fields of promise of a better education.

The prospect of being in a foreign land was daunting, and with no way to get home, and no real choice but to blindly place their trust in the hands of strangers, the teachers and students boarded the bus.  The expert navigators followed:  the Bus Driver -- a lady, who seemed rather cowardly; the Tour Guide -- a soft spoken man who told the passengers that his primary goal was to make sure all of the children felt good about themselves during the long journey; the First Assistant -- a tall debonair gentleman; and the Second Assistant -- a striking lady who didn’t say much.   Once everyone was seated, the Bus Driver started the engine and headed down the yellow brick road.

Almost immediately, she came to a fork in the road.  The fork had two directional signs. One said “Main Street” and the other said “Road Less Traveled.” Dazed and confused by her choices, she turned to the Tour Guide and two assistants and asked for the Map to the Emerald City, but they told her they didn’t actually have a physical map.  The Tour Guide told her not to worry, however, reminding her that he had actually drawn the original Map, had driven down the yellow brick road before, knew exactly how to get to the Emerald City, and would tell her which directions to take. He then told her to turn onto the “Road Less Traveled” assuring her that it was the “best” way to get there.  The Bus Driver shrugged her shoulders, did as she was told and kept driving.

After a few days of driving on a very bumpy and winding road, the bus suddenly slowed to a stop. The teachers and students asked, “Are we there yet?” 

The Driver answered, “No. It is time for me to get off the bus. We are not at the Emerald City yet, but I don’t need to get there anymore, since I have just gotten a job driving a bus for a smaller city.  Then, with a big smile on her face, she waved good-bye and hopped off. 

The Tour Guide then told the passengers, “Don’t worry, the debonair First Assistant will now be your new driver.  Since I know the roads to the Emerald City like the back of my hand, I will give him directions and we will be there in no time.

Some of the teachers asked the Tour Guide, “Are you sure?  Has the First Assistant ever been a driver before?  Maybe you should call the Emerald City’s Great Leader and Trustees and make sure the new driver knows the path to take. 

But the Tour Guide said, “That is not necessary.  The Great Leader looks to me for guidance and if I say the First Assistant can drive this bus, then trust me, he can drive it and get us to the Emerald City.

The Tour Guide, also realizing that the passengers were getting restless after days of sitting idly on the moving bus, told them that for the next leg of the long journey, they would get a preview of what awaited them in the Emerald City.  As the bus drove on, he and the Second Assistant passed out samples of the curriculum, told the teachers to make the best of the trip and pretend that the bus was one big classroom. The Tour Guide confidently told them that the best thing about the Emerald City was that social justice awaited them there, everyone would learn the same things at the same pace and that all of the students would be better off under this equitable system.  So, in an effort to calm the students, the teachers passed out the materials and told the students to dig in.

Days, weeks and  months passed, with the school bus continuing down the yellow brick road, the journey taking far longer than the teachers and students ever imagined it would.  Whenever the New Driver got to another fork in the yellow brick road, he would consult with the Tour Guide and the Second Assistant about which way to go.  Without a physical Map, they spent many hours discussing their options.  Many times during the journey, the Tour Guide told the driver to go in a new direction.   When the students or teachers occasionally asked if the bus was lost, the Tour Guide reminded them that he didn’t need a paper Map and to be patient.   Every time the bus changed course, they were promised that the Emerald City was just around the next bend.

Yet the bus still didn't arrive at the Emerald City.  To make things worse, chaos broke out on the bus.  Some of the students were bored with the sample materials, others found them to be too difficult.  Some students grew emotionally distraught, while others became defiant and said they no longer liked going to school.   Trapped on the single bus, the teachers were not sure how to get control of the situation.  So one more time, they turned to the Driver and asked for his help. 

But rather than help them, the Driver stopped the bus.  Everyone looked around and said, “Have we finally reached the Emerald City?  But the Driver said, “No.  But it is time for me to get off the bus. We are not at the Emerald City yet, but I don’t need to get there anymore, since I have found a new city I’d rather work in.” And with a smile on his face and a wave of his hand, he hopped off the bus.

The teachers were now very concerned.  Would they ever get to the Emerald City?  Did it really exist?  What would happen to the students? Did the Tour Guide really know what he was doing?  Overcome with worry, they said to the Tour Guide and the Striking Assistant, “We really think you are lost.  Please call the Great Leader in the Emerald City or the Trustees and ask for better directions. 

The Tour Guide finally agreed to check with the Great Leader and went to make a phone call, but when he returned, with a big smile on his face, he announced,  I have some great news…” and then mumbled under his breath “for me. . . The Emerald City’s Great Leader has decided to retire early and the Trustees have chosen a new Leader.  I have just spoken to him and he has put his complete trust in me and made me the new driver! Don’t worry, now that I am completely in charge of the bus, we’ll make haste and get to the Emerald City in no time at all. He then revved the bus engine and drove on.

But the road to the Emerald City continued to be endless.  Angst and frustration grew amongst the students and teachers.  A few weeks after the Tour Guide took over as the Driver, he came to yet another fork in the road.   At that moment, he realized that the bus was back at the first fork in the road that led to either “Main Street” or the “Road Less Traveled.”  With a big sigh, he turned to the Second Assistant and said, “I think we might be lost. Which way do you think we should go to get to the Emerald City?” But, not surprisingly, she had no answer.

Hearing his question, the teachers and students all started hollering, “What do you mean, you don’t know which way to go.  Are we really back where we started? You told us months ago that you drew the original MAP and promised that you  knew how to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City!

But the Tour Guide answered, “I never said that.  It was the last Great Leader and the first and second drivers who claimed to know the path down the yellow brick road. But they got off the bus or moved away from the Emerald City leaving me and the Second Assistant all alone.  Don’t blame us if we are lost now.  Now you all have to give us more time to figure out the path to the Emerald City.  All we need is more time…

The teachers and students all looked at each other in horror.  They couldn’t believe what they were hearing.  So much time had passed since the tornado had carried them away from the Land of Educational Contentment.  They were no longer content. They had wasted valuable time on this  school bus to nowhere and were either bored out of their minds or felt defeated.  They had put their trust in the Tour Guide, accepting all of his promises that he would lead them to the Emerald City and a better education.  

They all started wailing, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.  Why can’t we go home? We don’t want to go to the Emerald City anymore!  Please just stop the bus and either let us get off or let us call the Great Leader and Trustees and ask them to get us a new driver who actually knows how to get us there.

But the Tour Guide and the Second Assistant ignored these cries for help.  Instead, the two of them stared straight ahead at the long yellow brick road.  The Tour Guide started the engine and once again began driving the lone bus down the yellow brick road --- to nowhere…


Our next post will discuss the significance of this story and the sad reality of what took place at the October 27, 2014 board meeting.


Anonymous said...

I have some quibbles characterizing the "pre-tour guide era" as the "Land of Educational Contentment".

As I recall there were some folks that looked around "the bus" and saw that some seats were a little smaller and some seats were a little bigger. It made a lot of sense to most people because the "bus loading people" mostly did a good job sizing up students to seats.

The problems was that some folks cried that the different sized seats made them feel bad. At about the same time other people noticed sometimes the "seat sizers" did not get things perfectly right, some kids close to cut off for a size sorta squeezed in and some kids did not. Maybe the "seat sizers" needed measuring sticks that were newer and better. Some people said the seat sizers did not know what they were doing. That was not right and some people sought to get Lady Justice to weigh in on that. Maybe if the bus driver was a little smarter that would not have been needed.

The bus driver was filled with panic. Seeing Lady Justice would be expensive and time consuming.
To "fix" this problem the tour guide suggesting hiring their pal. The pal had lots of expertise telling folks about how terrible their buses were but not much else. The expert decided to light their hair on fire. It was a smelly mess. The bus driver and the "board of bus trustees" kind of pooped themselves. The smell grew worse. The people with children who cried about their seats joined the cacophony.

The people late at night decided maybe to take all the seats out of bus. Despite the objections of lots of people that is just what they did.

The tour guide seized on a buzz word from the pal with the burning hair and decided to make the old seats new seats that were buzz word compliant. The new seats were magic. They were supposed to fit everyone.

Some parents said that is silly, there are no magic seats. Everyone should get a seat that fits them as best as possible.

The tour guide said people that did not like magic seats must be bad, they must want to lock some kids into yucky seats.

The bus driver got the burning hair expert back. Maybe the bus supervisors should learn more about Modern Bus Supervising and maybe some need deeper knowledge of bus stuff. But the expert did not want to stick around.
The not so silly parents responded with patience. But they saw that those seats were not magic at all. They saw that those seats were just terrible for some kids. Lots of parents decided to go buy their own safety belts so their kids would not be jostled too badly. Some of the folks in charge of sub-routes decided that seat belts were needed for their whole sub-section. This was not the tour guide wanted AT ALL. It made the tour guide FRANTIC.

The frantic tour guide decided the reason the magic seats weren't working was that they did not comply with Magic Standards that many states had signed on to. To make the magic seats work, the tour guide got MORE magic seats, some from seat makers that specialized in making seats for kids that were stuck in really really terrible buses. Those magic seats did not work either. The parents that saw this wanted no more magic seats. They wanted the kind of seats that they had once upon a time. Seats that fit their kids. The tour guide hemmed and hawed and said the reason the magic seats were not working was because there had been too many bus drivers, switching bus drivers is BAD. You can't do that. I drove the bus for a little bit, you can't switch ME out!!!

The story teller with a memory.

Anonymous said...


And so the tour guide displayed their enormous stack of slides. Some with bubbles. Some with arrows. Some with bullets. Some with arrows and bubbles. Some with bubbles and arrows. Some with bullets and bubbles and arrows. Some with video. It was FASCINATING... Here is some more fascinating video Really long YouTube Video featuring folks with rural accents that do not seem smart at all and a subject about as irrelevant / controversial as I could find Cute? Horrifying? Depends on your perspective...

I suppose you could say that the tour guide is still hoping that folks will "take it on faith" that the magic seats really work. Some of the "bus trustees" have figured out that there is a real lack of consensus among honest educational experts regarding most any "variable". Some studies will show that nice big seats are perfectly fine and some will say big seats are not good at all. Some well respected "bus researchers" kind of throw-up their own hands and don't do studies themselves so much as summarize other studies. Sometimes they do it honestly and sometimes they let their biases cloud their conclusions. Some of the bus researchers pretty clearly did not themselves pay attention in their own classes in the "statistics of buses" and it is unfortunate that other researchers have to honestly point this out.

Some bus trustees are clearly tired / fed-up. They'd like the whole problem to go away. But there is not just one bus route. There are many. And the folks that live on one route don't want to find out that they are on "wrong one" and when the bus stops on the route cost so much one can't help but expect all the routes to be if not identical then at least very very good and quite similar. It takes a bus driver with some unique skills to know all the routes and keep everyone happy...

But some parents really see that the tour guide does not understand how kids really ride the bus. The tour guide has passion not for all kids, but for kids in crummy buses. The problem is crummy buses don't want or need a tour guide that has only talked the tour without walking the route. And it is kind of amazing that the bus trustees allow the tour guide to dabble in that through time consuming side trips instead of focusing on fixing the bus that they broke with magic seats.


Maybe in the spring the new bus driver, if he really is as wise as past suggests, can help the tour guide and their stylish pal make room for folks that really know the route, can share the map and work full time getting the bus back on track... Or maybe the not so silly parents will have to be a lot less polite.

The story teller with a memory.