School Reform, Pecking, and Chicken Glasses

You must be thinking what an odd title for a blog on education and school reform. Well, you can thank my friend and colleague, Marcia, at WSWHE BOCES for this entry. Marcia reads this blog, and she knows my penchant for rose-colored glasses. Anyhow, the other morning Marcia asked me if I had seen the Antiques Roadshow which featured the $500 appraised chicken glasses, to which I replied, “No?! Are you kidding??” She then described these tiny spectacles which farmers put on their chickens back in the early 20th century. “They are so tiny and cute!,” she commented. Rose colored glasses on chickens???? Hmmmm. I had no idea they did such things, though given the nature of chickens, it does make sense.

A while back I wrote about my preference for rose-colored glasses when working through significant reform projects such as Race to the Top. Anyone who has participated in a major reform effort knows full well the value of a positive, can-do attitude. One that asks good hard questions and challenges assumptions while seeing the possibilities and potentialities difficult change provides. Having a sense of optimism goes a long way when encountering problems during change efforts, and as we know, problems are opportunities. But what about chickens and rose-colored glasses?

If you keep chickens, you’ll know they peck at each other, particularly when they see red blood. In fact, they’re cannibalistic at the sight of blood–which doesn’t bode well for the poultry farmer or injured chicken. When wearing rose-colored glasses, however, chickens actually become color blind. From Todd Bryan’s blog on the Pioneer Way, “When the chickens held their heads upright the red lenses rendered the birds color-blind, eliminating their ability to detect raw flesh and blood. You see, chickens are instinctively cannibalistic and have a natural tendency to peck one another. Pecking is the chickens way of establishing hierarchy within the flock, which is where the term “pecking order” comes from. Also, being that the red lenses were mounted on hinges, the chickens had clear and unobstructed vision while lowering their heads to feed.” 

There’s a lot of “pecking” going on in the field of school reform these days. So much is on the line, and with a growing sense of urgency to raise student achievement, particularly on international measures such as TIMSS and PISA, stakeholders are having heated discussions on how to reform public education. Without getting into the sometimes vitriolic commentary coming from various quarters, the reality of fiscal austerity for public schools and local governments demand adult conversations at all levels. Though rose-colored glasses on chickens are no longer hip at the poultry farm, it may be time to look at the lenses we are looking through in this country when it comes to public education. After all, we do have the capacity and talent to do extraordinary things when we put our minds and hearts to what matters most.

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