Sunday, September 28, 2014

What We Have Here is Failure to Communicate

If you cannot quote at least one line from Cool Hand Luke, I am calling you out. A few days ago at our office, a reference to the movie was lost on young Brian Jordan who was forced to admit he had not seen the movie. (Always the learner, Brian raced home that night and watched it on Netflix and was in full quote mode the next day.)

Cool Hand Luke epitomizes the anti-hero movies of the late 60s and early 70s. Those of my vintage grew up with classic anti-heroes that started in the 50s with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and Marlon Brando in The Wild One, who responded to the question “What are you rebelling against?” with the iconic answer “What’ve you got?”

Folks my age grew up with rule-breakers who were trying to do the right things outside of, or in spite of, “the system.” Recently, I read a book that includes the other side of the story. Nixonland is a fascinating look at how America reacted to the rebellious bikers and hippies that my friends and I thought were so cool growing up. In my mind, my grandfather’s disdain for long hair, groovy music, peace signs, and happenin’ threads was what proved it was all alright, alright, alright.

Until reading Nixonland, I did not realize that my grandpa was the norm, not the exception. The book discusses how the 60’s were a time when American culture began to splinter, and how politicians capitalized on this splintering for their own good. Looking at our culture now, those splinters have become chasms of blue and red. The anti-heroes may have won at the box-office, but they led to the rise of radicals on both sides of political spectrum.

The author explains that as protests grew in number and scope, public opinion turned against the protesters. Protests for ending the war in Vietnam and for civil rights begat less overall public support for those causes. It also led to violence on both sides. At a time when America needed leaders to help them heal, we got politicians who saw an opportunity to capitalize on the division.

Fifty-years later, we are left to deal with the aftermath. Politicians of our decade have learned the lessons of the 1960s. Wedge issues, retribution, vindictiveness, dirty tricks, demonization, and personal attacks are the tools of division and only serve the politicians.

A professor told me once that it is one thing to understand the game; it is another thing to win it. In our current political environment, we first need to redefine winning. If winning means my party is in charge then there are still a lot of losers. If winning is redefined as making our country, state, or schools better, different tactics must be employed. Wedge issues, retribution, vindictiveness, dirty tricks, demonization, and personal attacks have to be replaced with building trust, looking at data, meaningful dialogue, and compromise.

Cool Hand Luke was a great movie, but  <SPOILER ALERT >  Luke dies in the end, and the abysmal prison system just keeps right on going. Captain America was cool, but he and Billy die for no reason in the end. Education leaders need to look for solutions instead of raging against the machine. It's way more cool to eat fifty eggs than to work in anonymity for prison reform. It’s more fulfilling in the short-term to complain about where we are, but much better for all if we figure out how to chart a course for where we want to be.

KASB will be in your area starting Tuesday, holding Educational Summits in an attempt to develop a course for the future of Kansas education. Please join us, because Mark Tallman has a really cool hand.

Friday, September 12, 2014


How many of you remember when we relied on people like Siskel and Ebert to keep us from wasting $1.50 on a bad movie? My kids now have a rule- no movies below 60% on Rotten Tomatoes so they won't blow eight bucks on this year's Ishtar. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Rotten Tomatoes is a meta-analysis of all of reviews posted by critics and if you access it via your Flixster App, you can get user scores too. This new technology helps movie buffs such as myself avoid the old newspaper advertising technique of modifying the critics words to make the movie sound better.

"This supposed summer blockbuster is a bomb!" becomes "...SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER...!"

"A small masterpiece of dementia." becomes "MASTERPIECE!"

"Spectacular mess" becomes "Spectacular!"

You get the drift. Rotten Tomatoes has ruined it for "creative" ad writers. But don't worry about them starving, because these masters of word and phrase plucking are not in the unemployment line. Every two years they are able to find plenty of work writing political advertisements!

This year, they seem to have started particularly early, and we can look forward to two more months of misleading and uninformative material coming out of mysterious organizations with high-minded names.  

Postcards, flyers, and commercials that pluck quotes and data like my older sister used to pick the best cherries off of my grandparents cherry tree because she was the tallest.  How does one know what to believe?

While there is no "Rotten Tomatoes" for political advertising, the KASB Board of Directors has charged the staff with being a "truth machine" for claims about Kansas Schools.  This is a charge that we take very seriously.  The bad news is that the real truth is often complex, and if time is not taken to understand the whole story, voters can be easily misled.  Finding out the facts requires work, and listening to an explanation of the issues.  Is there really more money in education? Is there more money available to be spent on students and teachers? Is the money being provided by the feds, the state, or by local efforts? It gets complicated.

I encourage readers to take the time to learn the facts.  Read "The Tallman Education Report" and Ted Carter's blog to become more informed.

Someday, we may have Flixster for politicians.  Until then, we have Mark and Ted.  Put them to work for you!