Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lurking Guardians of the Past

I'm deep into my "detailed reread" of Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. My first encounter with a promising new non-fiction book is always a cursory review. I'm essentially speed reading to hear the author's foremost message. If I'm drawn to the point, I set aside precious quality time for a delicious and "detailed reread." That's what I did with Disrupting Class. I added it to my stack of "rereads." My self-appointed rule is to place a new "reread" on the bottom of the stack--but I rarely follow my own rule. I've noticed that compelling "rereads" find their way to the top to the stack by haunting my curiosity and peaking my sense of adventure. These books lure me back to them with an attraction that surely resembles the forces that drive treasure hunters. Because I know treasure exists within them, I'm compelled to mine the gold in "them there hills." I'm beginning to better understand and appreciate the "reread" stack. It is a second filter of sorts. It separates potential treasure troves from fool's gold. And true to its function, the "reread stack" catapulted Disrupting Class toward me at every given opportunity for quality time. I am into this book. I'm reading for treasures and finding them.

Here is a treasure drawn from page 112. Its accuracy disturbs me.

"Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian Nobel Laureate in literature once observed, "At every crossway on the road that leads to the future each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past."

I'm disturbed because I suspect that the "thousand men" may be living in my neighborhood, in my community... and they may be congregating in my schools! Why, just last week I caught a glimpse of lurking guardians of the past. I'd just chaired an exhilarating meeting with forwarding-thinking administrators that genuinely aspire to transforming schools for the 21st century. Following the meeting and filled with hope and renewed energy, I plunged into my work. One of "the thousand" slowly emerged in my thinking - out of nowhere! Just as clearly as a ringing bell, I replayed a meeting scene in which a potential "guardian"interjected, "What we are doing is changing the teacher's job description." Now, I don't doubt for a minute that the speaker intended to call attention to the fact that our expectations for how teachers teach are changing ... and for the better. But somewhere deep in the origin of the comment was a guardian of the past. The "guardian" challenged whether or not our schools had the right to adjust expectations for how teachers teach in the 21st century. After all, the existing job description did not spell out a responsibility for teaching "21st century skills." Maeterlinck's quote kicked in. It was a jolt - an epiphany. In an instant I had an intuitive grasp of the reality that surfaced through this event. It is simple and so striking. There is a "guardian of the past" lurking in the the most progressive of us. As we step into the future, the guardian of all things past is that voice that whispers, "Can we really do this?" "Is it really possible to glimpse the future and plan for progressive tomorrows? "Who am I to lead a charge for change?" Oh, that Maeterlinck's "thousands" were that small in number! Given a thousand to defeat, we'd have 21st century schools with informed teaching and progressive learning on every corner. The reality, however, is that "guardians of the past" exist within the most courageous of us. We must all battle to conquer the voices that "guard the past." It won't be easy. It will be hard. Chances are great that "the old demon" will surface every day.


  1. I agree that we'll never divorce ourselves from the nagging guardian of the past. (The upside is that s/he doesn't demand alimony?)

    I wonder, though, if that guardian is what can both propel us forward by reminding us what we're moving away from and provide that "reality check" that prevents us from building a roof on a house without walls.

  2. I just like the title of the book so much! Those centurions of the past work at my school too! And they dislike me, what I do, & for what I stand. I fully expect they will get their way & the upper hand once our principal leaves....sigh....

  3. Yes, Christa, the "reality check" can be cold water on a bad idea. I've learned to welcome the shower.