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Education Opinion

The Summer Triangle

By LeaderTalk Contributor — June 21, 2011 2 min read
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Our stars mock us. I realized that this morning when I read about the Summer Triangle which will appear tonight in the eastern sky just after dark.

There are three stars in the Summer Triangle and while they appear to look the same… they are not even in the same constellation. Altair is 17 light years away. That means, in the parlance of astronomers, that the photons of light that strike our eyes tonight actually left their source back in 1994. Seven years before No Child Left Behind launched our present preoccupation with accountability (and the madness of interminable testing)… Altair issued light.

Vega is some 150 trillion miles away and it’s light left 25 years ago—just after A Nation at Risk called out our schools for their extraordinary mediocrity. It is also the year that President Reagan decided that he would honor teachers by sending one up on the space shuttle. We all regretted that decision:

“…they slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God”

On the final vertex of the Summer Triangle sits Deneb. At a distance of 9,000 trillion miles, we are seeing light that has actually been traveling through space since the 6th century. And yet when we look at Deneb, the untrained eye will merely see a twinkle… and wish upon a star.

So here’s the point.

For decades we have been in search of stars. We call them “exemplary” schools, “break-the-mold” schools,“distinguished” schools, “blue ribbon” schools, “award wining” schools. We mine them for their essence and too often discover one disappointing commonality: their commonality.

I wonder which “stars” you follow. I wonder whose light you take your inspiration from. I wonder why there are so many stars flickering and fading in the cosmic panorama of public education— like heavenly bodies whose light is owed to the by-gone genius of some other era. Like 1994. Or 1986. Or 1886. Or the 6th century.

Stars are not as they appear. They are inspired by old and even ancient energy. They are romanticized and gazed upon and dreamers set their sails by them. But while they are universally regarded as a metaphor for excellence; for champions and models and promising performers and the best of the best-- they are quite literally, a portal to our past.

My charter school is in perpetual orbit in search of new and different results. There are at least three constants: our kids keep coming, every one is unique and different, and we can’t live on your star. We survive on our wits and creativity and courage to change. On leaning forward.

In The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun writes “By idolizing those whom we honor we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves… we fail to recognize that we could go and do likewise.”

Like right now. In the next few stress free weeks-- in the shower or kayaking or just stargazing during the summer break—fresh ideas will incubate. We will find our own inspiration. Our own solutions.

So tonight I am going out to look for the Summer Triangle just because I talked about it here. (Without my Pocket Universe Ap I won’t be able to tell Deneb from Vega and all their light will look the same.) I’ll admire its symmetry, but not its wisdom. The rest is up to me.

“It is an achievement to find a great idea,” writes Berkun. “But it is a greater one to successfully use it to improve the world.”

By Kevin W. Riley
Cross-posted on El Milagro Weblog

The opinions expressed in LeaderTalk are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.