Friday, March 18, 2016

Taking Off the Masks

A recent story you may have missed concerns whooping cranes and conservation methods. ("Patuxent refuge changes course in project to restore rare whooping cranes", Tim Prudente, Baltimore Sun) The article outlines the results of a long-term investment in specialized methods for hand-rearing the endangered bird.

For 15 years, staff at the Patuxent Research Refuge near Laurel took an unusual approach to raising endangered whooping cranes: They dressed in crane costumes to teach the chicks to eat like cranes and to drink like cranes. It was elaborate theater to save a species at the brink of extinction.

It didn't work. The upshot was that the cranes did not flourish as a result of this highly specialized program of care. Hundreds of cranes were lost. Despite their best and well-intentioned efforts, researchers looking honestly at the consequences of their own actions had to admit something was wrong. They are scientists, after all. The evidence of abandoned nests, unhatched eggs, and dying chicks were right in front of them.

They decided that Mother Nature knew something that they, somehow, did not. And they have decided to focus on more natural and less interfering methods of conservation for the whooping crane.

For some reason this story made me think of the current situation with our school system. (Yes, I know, what doesn't make me think of the school system?) We have had certain individuals who are charged with caring for children, supporting teachers, and working collaboratively with parents, and on the surface they have appeared to be undertaking the work of doing just that.

Yet over time the evidence is mounting that something is deeply wrong. Testing time increases. Arts education decreases. Direct support to students in the classroom is cut. Teachers' morale is abysmal. Parents feel disrespected and disenfranchised. Our treatment of special education students and African-American students shows frightening inequity. Victims of bullying, sexual harassment, and assault often feel voiceless.

Yet our leaders persist in doing the same things over and over: engaging in the elaborate theater of running a " world-class school system" even when the results of their own actions litter the landscape all around them. Video from a recent exchange between Superintendent ReneƩ Foose and Councilwoman Jen Terrasa makes this abundantly clear.

I have deep respect for the conservationists who took a hard look at their work and were honest enough to admit they had failed. Here in Howard County, we are long overdue for that kind of honesty and professional integrity.

It's time to take off the costumes and stop faking it.


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