My husband and I recently attended a live performance of the NPR show, Radiolab. Titled “Apocolypto,” the thread tying the stories together was endings. The first story the hosts, Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad, told was about recent research on the extinction of the dinosaurs. Previous theories proposed that the dinosaurs died off slowly from starvation because the debris-filled atmosphere prevented sunlight from sustaining plant life, thus disrupting the entire food chain. Based on new evidence, some scientists now hypothesize that the dinosaurs were wiped out in a cataclysm of fire that lasted only a few hours. The sights and sounds that accompanied this tale of death and destruction made it seem even more horrific.
This got me thinking about cataclysmic change. We don’t handle it well. Indeed, it is often deadly. Recent events bear this out: whole neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey are gone because of Superstorm Sandy, the recent floods in Colorado, wildfires throughout the West, earthquakes in Japan and other parts of the world. The list is long. People do recover from these events, but it takes time. These disasters leave both internal and external scars. The people and the landscapes are changed forever.
I feel like the world of education is in the midst of a cataclysm. CCSS, SBAC, and SEED (Connecticut’s acronym for our new teacher evaluation system) are causing huge upheavals across the country. Teachers are doing their best, just as they always have, to keep a steady focus on their students and what they need to learn and succeed. But it’s not easy. Every day it seems like there is some new demand that drains more time and energy away from our students.
But times of cataclysmic change and natural disasters also bring out the best in people. Communities come together to help and support one another as they get back on their feet. We have to remain supportive of each other as we navigate these changes. Instead of feeling like those dinosaurs on that really bad day eons ago, we should feel like we are part of the creation of a better education system for all children.
The physical world is in constant flux, and it’s an illusion to think that the day-to-day world of our lives is any different. Our survival depends on the attitude we bring to those daily challenges. Radiolab’s final story that evening was about two actors, both diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at about the same time. Rather than let their disease get the best of them, they teamed up to perform Samuel Beckett’s play, Endgame. Their determination not to be crushed by their disease allowed them to overcome its devastating effects.
We can’t let ourselves be crushed by the changes we face. We have to go to school each day and support each other as we combine what is good about these new initiatives with what we know is best for students. That is how we can evolve and flourish in the aftermath of this cataclysm.