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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Water Hole

There's an old African proverb: "When the water hole dries up, the animals begin to look at each other differently."

Let's hope that this adage does not ring true during the present and persistent economic crisis that is inflicting a ravaging financial storm upon school districts throughout the state of New York. The funding source is drying up and school districts are growing anxious and scared.

This is no time for advocates of public school education to allow their voices to dissipate by screaming with reckless abandon at any and all perceived threats. Nothing is gained by individual districts or schools pointing their fingers at a long list of grievances involving funding procedures and practices. Instead, I believe the preferred strategy would center on the few leverage points that contribute the most toward this fiscal plague.

Nor are charts, graphs, power point presentations and cold data a convincing platform. People may be persuaded by numbers, but rarely are they inspired by them. Instead, accessing emotions is more likely to induce change and engagement. Narratives in the form of stories represent a valuable vehicle for conveying information. After all, it comes down to people and feelings, not numbers and calculations.

Let's look at an excerpt from the book, Influencer: the Power to Change Anything, by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzer for a recommended direction for those wishing to express disdain for the significant reductions in state aid (Green Island is scheduled to lose 22% of its funding from the state compared to last year's allocation). The authors refer to a study that examined how memorable and credible stories are in the retention levels of people.

The research method identified three different groups of graduate students pursuing a Masters degree in Business Administration. It’s important to note that the curriculum in such a program leans heavily on data and formulas and numbers of all kinds. “Each group was provided with exactly the same information. In one case, the students were given a verbal description that contained facts and figures. Another group was given the same information – only it was presented through charts and tables. The final group was provided the same details presented as a story. To the researcher’s surprise, when tested three weeks later, not only did those who heard the story recall more detail than the other two groups, but they also found the story more credible. MBA students gave more credence to a story than cold hard facts. Concrete and vivid stories exert extraordinary influence because they transport people out of the role of critic and into the role of participant. Stories often keep the listener from offering counterarguments in the first place. The final point of differentiation between stories and verbal persuasion is human emotions. Stories, when told well, stimulate genuine emotions. Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through traditional conceptual reasoning, but through direct stimulation – by feelings, not by thinking. Using stories also invites listeners into sharing personal experiences.”

Public school education serves as a conduit between generations that allows our society to extend itself toward a future of greater possibilities and prosperity through the support of taxpayers who preceded the beneficiaries. Education is an inheritance we receive from those before us. Education allows us to sustain progress and continue to advance via innovations and adaptations. Our competitive edge as a nation has been fully supported by an educated citizenry and high rate of literacy. Our almost mythic fiber, woven into our history, recounts the rags to riches stories of Abe Lincoln reading by candlelight in a log cabin, and Thomas Edison's rise to fame through perseverance and grit. It is a belief in the opportunity for anyone with a dream and hope to elevate themselves through an educational experience available to all, and aspire to make a difference in the lives of others.

No matter when anyone ends their formal education, their support of education should never end. Just as we were the recipients of the funding supplied by community members when we attended school, so should we offer the same support to children as an investment in our very own future - the days we are retired and rely on the productivity of these children who have become adults, taxpayers, citizens, and neighbors. Here's a quote from one of the founding fathers and early presidents, Thomas Jefferson, who stated - "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people...they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty."

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