Leonard C. Burrello
Executive Director
The Center for Appreciative
Organizing in Education
Dear All:

Lately everyone is talking narratives. Just last week, Robert Shiller, an economist from Yale, writes “we don’t know whether any specific event—say, an unexpected spike in oil prices or a decline in the stock market—will help transform any current social stories into a truly virulent economic disruption. We don’t truly know what is coming or when. But history does tell us that human imagination can spontaneously transform discrete events into world-shaking narratives of unexpected color and force.”
I think his profound statements pose a challenge to us all: can we imagine that our schools can become a force to transform the world? I once thought of a congress of students from around the world backed by their teachers engaged in a conversation about what is essential to know and consider as the future caretakers of a fragile planet? What do need to know about how to care for those trapped in poverty and environmental devastation? How to confront failed states who brutalize their citizens? How did freedom and open societies evolve out of ancient tribes? To name just a few important questions.
Although, it strikes me that we should not ask the question of “how” first, but rather to confront the question of why should we know these things at such an early age? Then we can ask how do our future caretakers become caretakers today? When does the future become the focus of critical literacy in our schools? Do we have a curriculum on the impact of future trajectories on humankind?
A week earlier, David Brooks wrote again on this familiar theme: what is the story of success in America? “We need a new national story” he says because “Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through luck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.” He goes on to say that maybe the new story will be “less individualistic and more redemptive” or “it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.” Brooks cites the need to rebuild a sense of solidarity—“we’re all in this together.” I believe these represent the theme of the narrative that schools at a local level can contribute too—the work of the future, today.
These narratives will spark a national movement of school districts contributing to solve the problems of the world with solutions thought up by kids and their teachers together. Community members and local officials will then be forced to discuss those problems most close to home as well as those far away if it is our children who challenge us to imagine a better place.
A tribal leader from Senegal impressed me the other day when he said all the young men are gone because of the climate change. They cannot make a living farming or hunting, so they leave. How can we grow a wheat or corn crop in alternating arid droughts and irregular violent rainstorms that burn or wash away the spring, summer, or fall planting? The problems of the world appear to be the problems of study that should challenge our students’ imagination and create an inspired reasoning for schooling.
What do you guys think? Love to hear from you!