I stood at the service counter of my local Starbucks waiting for my annoying to make White Mocha with a few modifications. The barista was a friendly young woman who went about her task without any appearance of dislike for her job. As I waited, I overheard a second barista, a little less friendly sounding, announce, in front of guests and the management, that my barista was out of dress code.
I looked. Nothing stood out to me, the customer. It turned out she had forgotten to take out her tongue ring that morning.
I stared at the less friendly barista, confounded by her actions. Why would she do that? No one would have noticed, or really cared.
Back at the school, I thought about education policies that try to make schools and teachers conform. No Child Left Behind comes to mind. I thought of Thoreau’s drumbeat and Frost’s diverging path. I mostly thought of how controlling the education bureaucracy has grown. I wanted to grab a notebook, a pen, and a good book so that I could march my students, to whatever drumbeat we heard, out into the woods of education and learn simply, suck the marrow out of education. I wanted to leave the system to fail without me.
I had recognized that the education system, the bureaucracy, needed direction. Good companies have rigid policies; great companies have a degree of flexibility. Good schools make teachers march in line; great schools tap into the ingenuity and creativity of the individual. Let me illustrate from my own classroom. I teach a somewhat scripted reading program. I was doing as the curriculum demanded. My students didn’t understand. It was my obligation, as the teacher, to ensure that these students understood the concept, so I punted. Only when I