"When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground." That's what George R.R. Martin writes in his intriguing fantasy series, A Song of Fire and Ice. He writes about a land that is torn apart by war and divided up into 7 kingdoms. Each one is trying to upstage all of the others and prove that they are fit to rule. They are so eager to gain any little advantage; they fail to realize the irreversible damage they do to the land.
I was reminded of this quote when I heard our superintendant of public instruction, John Huppenthal, speak at a forum a few weeks ago. (If education was a kingdom, I guess he would be the king of Arizona.) I had never heard him speak in public so I was looking forward to hear what he had to say. He talked about how he supported decentralization and how he didn't feel that it was his responsibility to tell local schools how they should operate. He wanted schools to decide things for themselves. For a quick minute, I eagerly ate up what he was saying. I want to have autonomy. I want to make the decisions that are best for MY students, not some politician in Phoenix which is 100 miles away. It made sense to me. The next day when I returned to my school, I thought, "If I'm only watching out for my own classroom, then I don't have time to watch out for any of my colleagues?" Is that why our politicians don't want to centralize education? To keep us all separated?
I have heard that there are some states in our country that are so strong and unified in their department of education that they are able to dictate what textbook companies include in their curriculum. Arizona is far from unified. On the AZ Dept. of Ed webpage, I tried to count the number of school districts in Arizona. I gave up after reaching 50. How many districts are there in the 50 states then? If Martin's land can't have peace with only 7 kingdoms, how can we hope to reach a level of peace with this many kingdoms fighting against each other here? If you don't think we're fighting, think again. Did every state qualify for Race to the Top? States had to fight and prove they were better than others to get that money.
We're playing this game in which each state, each district and in some cases, each teacher, is trying to upstage the other and gain an advantage. It seems like there is only so much money for a few schools so we have to fight tooth and nail to get it. In my city alone, there are some schools that have art, music, and P.E. teachers and some that don't. In my district, there are some schools in which every room has a Smart Board and others where they don't have any. We're so busy fighting that we fail to unify. If we were united, could we have more sway over the policies that are running our profession?
As we continue to play this game of thrones, it is not us who win or lose, but it is our students who are losing. And as long as we keep fighting this smaller battles, we are losing ground in the larger picture.