In the original Toy Story, Sid is undisciplined, obnoxious, lazy, and he mistreats his toys. My favorite Sid scene happens when Woody and Buzz are trapped inside with the claw-worshipping aliens as Sid plays Whack-A-Alien in the background. In the first cutaway, he is having loads of fun, but in the next he has climbed on top of the game in a rage, stomping and hammering everything in sight before he drops the hammers and walks away. I know Sid is the bad kid, but I wonder if he is just frustrated instead, because there is nothing more frustrating than Whack-A-Mole, just ask educators, parents, and students.
Over the last 20 years, public education has become an ever-accelerating game of Whack-A-Mole as everyone tries to guess what, when and where the next mandate will pop up. Virtually all of these “moles” originally popped up for very good reasons, and schools could originally manage them without detracting too much from their core mission. Unfortunately, the moles have multiplied like rabbits in recent decades. Principals cannot keep up. Teachers are worn out. Parents are confused, and kids are more stressed than ever before. Public schools are now expected to do everything, and when everything is equally important, Sid loses focus and gets discouraged.
Likewise, the more we focus on whacking state and federal moles, the less time and energy we pour into nurturing future graduates. Instead of a kid focus, we are expected to have a compliance focus. The moles are rapidly becoming too numerous to manage, and we risk losing sight of what matters. I dare say that all parents share certain values and goals, and I do not think a multitude of mandates are on their mind when they send them to school. No, parents have much nobler outcomes in mind.
As parents, we all want our children to grow up to be good parents for our grand-children, and school is a part of their preparation. We all want their schools to be safe and nurturing. We want them engaged in rigorous and relevant academics. We all want them to have a smorgasbord of enriching opportunities like STEM, fine arts, and athletics. This is our ultimate goal, however: we all want them to graduate from school as ready as they can be to enter college, to pursue a career, and to be a good person. If we focus on that end goal, I think we can move beyond Whack-A-Mole.
Just imagine if we backwards-designed our school district with a singular focus on graduating men and women ready to enter college or a career? And just imagine if their 14-year journey was a nurturing and opportunity-rich adventure that emphasized character as much as curriculum. Just imagine a school district that trained children to apply reason and logic to every situation and subject – how to use academics as tools to master life, not just as answers on standardized tests. Perhaps instead of trying to focus on everything, we should line up all other priorities behind the single goal of graduating men and women of integrity. This only happens in a safe, nurturing, opportunity-rich school system. If we can find our true north, I believe everything else will fall into place.
I have only been in Duncan for a short time, and I believe this community has the grit to do something special. DPS has already charted this course, and now it’s time to trust our instincts and go all in. I know our students can do it. I know our staff can deliver, and as a Dad, I suspect I know our parents’ hearts, too. In retrospect, Sid may not have walked away frustrated after all, he may have just figured that the only way to beat Whack-A-Mole is to step back and focus on what is important – like grabbing a little green alien with the claw! And who knows, like Sid, we might just get a bonus Woody and Buzz in the process!
Dr. Deighan is the Superintendent for Duncan schools. To contact Dr. Deighan, email to firstname.lastname@example.org.