Sunday, October 23, 2011


“What are you doing?”
“Looking for my keys.”
“When did you last have them?”
“I think I dropped them back over there.”
“Then why are you looking here?”
“The light’s better!”

This morning I couldn’t find my little Memo book. Long before Blackberries and I-Phones, these $.89 spiral notebooks that fit in my front pocket have been the center of organizing my life. Friends' phone numbers on the inside cover, business on the other, my lists of things to do going left to right, inspired ideas going right to left. And in the face of electronic alternatives, it still is the way I keep track of such things.

So I was bit put out when I couldn’t find it this morning and started just looking randomly around the house. Then I checked all the possible pockets. No luck. Then a voice rose up: “Think! When do you last remember having it?” Aha! I needed to call someone and his number was in the book. I talked to him by my desk. But still, nothing on top, behind or under the desk. Aha! His number wasn’t in the new Memo book, but an older one I kept in the desk drawer. Open the drawer and there were both books! Success!

And so actually thinking, remembering, following the train of thought and actions, proved more successful than random searching. Like the Sufi story above, I wasted time looking in the wrong place for the wrong reason.

And the way my mind works, it all became more than another sad story of failing memory with a happy ending. I thought about the public policy in education these past ten years, all this time and energy and ideas masquerading as thought spent looking too long in the wrong places for the wrong reasons. The wrong places are the marks on papers instead of children’s faces and the buzz and excitement in a classroom. The wrong reasons are money and the illusion of measuring progress instead of meeting children where they live and leading them forward to their promise. Losing a Memo book because I forgot to think is low stakes compared to losing a child’s present happiness and future intelligence because we forgot to think.

The train of thought to follow regarding a child’s education is so simple. Watch them! When they are excited, motivated, involved, still burning with their natural curiosity and urge for mastery (see Intery Mintery example last entry), we’re on to something. When they are habitually shut-down, lackluster, just going through the motions, frustrated, restless, doing what we tell them for fear of shame or hope of praise, then we’re doing something wrong, looking for the keys to their possibility in the wrong place because the light of money or some weird notion of success is distracting us.

So off I go to another rehearsal with the kids for the World Music Festival. The standard of achievement is extraordinarily high, yet all accomplished with love, laughter and lightness amidst the serious practice and discipline.

Now where did I put my keys?

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