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Divergent voices, divergent connections

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Title:
Divergent voices, divergent connections stories of expendable wisdom and the challenge for authentic engagement
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Norum, Karen Elaine
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English
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xvi, 314 leaves : illustrations ; 29 cm

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Subjects / Keywords:
Education -- Evaluation ( lcsh )
Education -- Aims and objectives ( lcsh )
Education -- Philosophy ( lcsh )
Education -- Aims and objectives ( fast )
Education -- Evaluation ( fast )
Education -- Philosophy ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 293-314).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Doctor of Philosophy, Educational Leadership and Innovation.
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
by Karen Elaine Norum.

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University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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39683558 ( OCLC )
ocm39683558
Classification:
LD1190.E3 1997d .N67 ( lcc )

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Full Text
DIVERGENT VOICES, DIVERGENT CONNECTIONS: STORIES
OF EXPENDABLE WISDOM AND THE CHALLENGE FOR
AUTHENTIC ENGAGEMENT
by
Karen Elaine Norum
B.S., University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, 1981
M. A., Denver Seminary, 1985
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
1997


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Karen Elaine Norum
has been approved
by

FL Scott Grabinge^
Paul Barnnan

Thomas E. Barone
' Date
Patfrck M. Jenlink


Norum, Karen Elaine (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and
Innovation)
Divergent Voices, Divergent Connections: Stories of Expendable
Wisdom and the Challenge for Authentic Engagement
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Dian Walster
ABSTRACT
A complex network of people contributes to the system we
call the "education system." The divergent voices in this study
are stakeholders in that education system. These voices describe
divergent connections to the education system. Most all of us are
connected to the education system because we have received an
education. The people in this study are additionally connected
through family and friends, through their children, through their
employment, or simply because they pay taxes that fund the
education system.
Stakeholders (those who are affected by the system directly
or indirectly) that currently appear to be the most involved in
systemic change efforts are policy makers and school staff
professionals. In this study, stories from primarily other


stakeholder groups are presented. A total of eight stories are
presented. The storytellers are childless taxpayers, homeless high
school drop-outs, parents, and teachers. Two themes, relevant to
educational systemic change efforts, emerged from these stories:
School is boring. What is its purpose anyway? These themes are
explored as part of the conclusions.
Because the voices that are presented here are not often
heard in conversations about systemic change, the author
proposes that the wisdom embedded in their stories is treated as
"expendable": knowledge that is not worth salvaging; not critical
to the discourse; not sought out or listened to. The author
proposes wisdom is made to be expendable in three ways: not
being invited to the conversation, not being included in the
conversation, not being heard in the conversation. The challenge
is to authentically engage stakeholders in dialogic conversations
about educational systemic change.
The methodology used in this study is a qualitative inquiry
approach, and specifically, narrative inquiry. The study is written
in everyday, informal language and a conversational tone which
is consistent with narrative inquiry. It also opens the door for the
study to appeal to a wide audience, such as the complex network
that contributes to the education system. The study incorporates
literature from systemic change, chaos and complexity theory, the
f
IV


practice of dialogue, public policy, education in a democracy, and
narrative inquiry.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's
thesis. I recommend its publication.
Signed.
Dian Walster


DEDICATION
In memory and honor of R. Kent Mathews,
the wind beneath my wings.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
There are many people who have played a role in making
this dissertation a reality and need to be mentioned. There is, of
course, my dissertation committee. I begin with folks from the
University of Colorado at Denver. Dr. Dian Walster, my chair
and partner who worked with and beside me, creating a dialogic
relationship reflected (I believe) in this work. Dr. Scott Grabinger,
who introduced me to constructivist learning theory and gallantly
served as my excellent program chair and mentor. Dr. Paul
Bauman, who encouraged me to enroll in the Ph.D. program and
provided support all the way through it. And Dr. May Lowry, first
a fellow student and now a role model as I pursue a career in
higher education. Also graciously serving on this committee, Dr.
Tom Barone (Arizona State University), whose work and support
gave me the confidence to write a nonfictional educational story
as my dissertation; and Dr. Patrick Jenlink (Stephen F. Austin
State University) who proved to be quite influential in shaping
my thinking.
Next are the people whose stories are this dissertation
without the gift of their voices, this work could not exist. I am


I
deeply grateful and call them by their name as used in this work
(you know who you are!): Elaine (and you thought you didn't
have much to say!); Doug (my nemesis at work and friend
otherwise!); Janise (I'm glad our paths crossed in the Ph.D.
program); Leah (I don't care what they say, you are a naturally
gifted storyteller!); Micayla (my dear, dear MendI cherish our
Mendship); and Mark (a wonderful neighbor). Although I didn't
know them personally, special thanks to Tristan, Gillian, and
Keith, who freely lent their voices to a stranger.
There are people outside of my committee and the
storytellers who also played a role in making this dissertation a
reality. I wish to thank Dr. Jean Clandinin (University of Alberta)
whose e-mail responses to me inspired the theme of this
dissertation. I also need to thank the "dissertation support group"
for their willingness to read and comment on these chapters (Rich
Morse, Lee Ann Rawley, and Vickey Wood). Also part of this
endeavor, Bryan Munroe, who has great faith in me and whose
Ph.D. journey mirrors mine in many respects; and my parents,
who instilled within me the love of a good story (who knew
reading Gone With the Wind six times would eventually lead to
this?!).
On a very personal note, thanks to my dear Mend Cheryl
Mathews for blazing the trail ahead of me and showing me it is
viii


possible to get a Ph.D. (can you believe we both did it, "Dr."
Mathews?!) and finally, Kent Mathewsalthough youre not
here physically, your spirit is ever-present in my life..! miss you,
my friend.


CONTENTS
PART 1
PROLOGUE....................................1
CHAPTER
1. WELCOME TO THE TERRAIN: INTRODUCTION....6
Nonfictional Educational Stories...............9
Divergent Voices, Divergent Connections.......11
Honoring Wisdom...............................17
Furthering the Dialogue.......................20
2. ELAINE MADISON: WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY
SAY THAT WOULD BE RELEVANT OR
VALUABLE?!...........................................23
I loved to go to school!......................25
As a youth, the obstacle appeared
mountainous...................................27
Secondhand observations.......................29
I feel like my voice doesn 't count...........32
If it were up to me...........................34
We all impact each other......................36
Wisdom Displaced..............................37


3- DOUGLAS MORTON: THEY HAVE MOM DAY
AND mDAD DAY. WHEN DO THEY EVER HAVE
NEIGHBOR DAY?!......................................41
Youre like a robot...........................42
People learning from people...................46
It takes a milage.............................48
It's very distant for me......................50
Theyre my world of tomorrow..................52
Ushering intelligence out of the system:
Expendable wisdom.............................55
Disappearing in moguls........................57
4. HOMELESS AND HOPEFUL: VOICES OF HIGH
SCHOOL DROP OUTS......................................60
Part 1, Tristan Welton: I Can Always Hope.....60
The reason Im homeless is domestic
violence...................................63
I didnt feel like school was a requirement ...67
I aint gonna live this life that Im living
now as a homeless person...................69
People aren't too satisfied................71


I
Part 2, Gillian and Keith Sherwood: They'd say,
"Take your kid out of school then!"..........73
They made me.............................74
They need to make more programs..........76
They fust need to make it more fun.......79
What we gotta do is make a better future for
our children.............................81
I'd automatically take her out and put her in
a different school.......................82
What's going on?.........................84
Postscript...................................86
5. JANISE WYATT-EDMUNSTON: I HAVE
MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS......................89
My interests related to the public education
system are numerous..........................90
The importance of an educated citizenry......92
In some respects, public education has become
another set of entitlements..................95
From whose lens do we define community? .....97
There's no right answer......................99
Education is about all of us................102
I hope I can be actively engaged............105
XII


i
Can we all zoork toward the best interests of my
child?.....................................107
6. LEAHHALBERG: THEY SAY THEY WANT
PARENT INVOLVEMENT, BUT AAUGHH!.Ill
Elementary Fun.............................113
Human Sexuality............................119
Junior High Joys...........................123
Where Can l Get Answers On How To Help My
Children?..................................130
The Expert's Voice.........................135
7. MICAYLA PALMER: IT'S TOO BIG AND MY VOICE
TOO SMALL.....................................136
A sense of worth and importance............137
Their culture is very different in some ways.140
At the risk of sounding moralistic and old-
fashioned..................................143
Its too big and my voice too small........147
I can see that sometimes it is an unwelcome
place......................................151
Long after they have forgotten who the first
Governor of Arizona was....................153
Wisdom underutilized.......................155
xiii


8. MARK JASEN: WHAT WE RE LOOKING FOR
HERE IS LONG-TERM COMMITMENT
FROM EVERYBODY.................................158
Improvisation and judgment calls are the most
important skills for me.....................160
It's easy for the school to hit the ceiling.162
You don't easily change mindsets............166
The responsibility and privilege of the public....170
There are no easy answers...................173
Traversing the Terrain......................177
9. DUET: SCHOOL IS BORING. WHAT IS ITS
PURPOSE ANYWAY?................................178
About These Stories.........................180
Duet........................................183
School Is Boring........................183
What is the real purpose of public
education?..............................189
What This Duet Tells Us About Expendable
Wisdom......................................196
10. EXPENDABLE WISDOM AND THE CHALLENGE
FOR AUTHENTIC ENGAGEMENT.......................198
Expendable Wisdom...........................199
The Challenge For Authentic Engagement......201
XIV


Making Wisdom Expendable..................202
Being Invited To The Conversation......202
Being Included In The Conversation.....208
Being Heard In The Conversation.......212
The Challenge To And For Authentic
Engagement................................217
The Challenge To Authentic Engagement..218
The Challenge For Authentic Engagement.221
Transformation By Design..............225
11. EPILOGUE................................234
PART 2
METHODOLOGY.....................................241
CHAPTER
12. HOW EXACTLY DID YOU DO THIS?............242
The Study's Purpose...................242
The Systemic Change Process........245
The Need For The Study.............248
Why Use a Narrative Approach?......249
The Nonfictional Educational Story....251
XV


APPENDIX Components of the Nonfictional Educational Story 252 The Validity of the Nonfictional Educational Story 255 Placing the Researcher in the Research 263 The Power of the Nonfictional Educational Story 265 This Dissertations Contribution To The Field..268 How The Study Unfolded 269 Reflections of a Researcher 275
A. VOICES IN DISSERTATION................282
B. HUMAN RESEARCH COMMITTEE REVIEW.......283
REFERENCES..................................293
XVI


PART ONE
PROLOGUE
What you are about to read is not a typical dissertation.
You will not find the traditional chapters on "the problem/
"methodology/" "literature review," "findings," etc. All of these
elements are here, just not in the traditional format.
There is a conversation or discourse (I use these terms
interchangeably) happening related to our public education
system. Many of us seem to agree that the current system could
stand to be improved. The conversation seems to center around
what this "improvement" should look like. Is it possible to take
what exists and make it better (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Elmore,
1990)? Or is the system in need of transformation rather than
improvement (Banathy 1992; Capra, 1996; Merz & Ferman, 1997;
Reigeluth, 1994; Sarason, 1990; Waddock, 1995; Wagner, 1993)?
These decisions appear to lie primarily in the hands of policy
makers and school staff professionals because of how the
education system is structured (A. A. Carr, 1995). Much of the
existing literature related to this conversation is about how a l
l


policy effected systemic change in a school or how a school staff
professional (usually a board member or administrator) effected
change (A. A. Carr, 1997). Rarely do we hear from people outside
of the school systemparents, childless taxpayers, the general
public. Yet these people talk about the public education system
and have their own discourse. They have stories about their
experiences with the public education system, stories which serve
to influence their current perceptions of the education system.
"People bring a wide and diverse range of assumptions and
tacit ways of understanding the world to any conversation"
(Isaacs, 1996, p. 20). These assumptions and ways of
understanding are revealed through people's stories. Stories
have a certain engaging power and by giving voice to them, we
are invited to come to know the world as others see it and
reconsider how we ourselves see it (Witherell, 1995). Stories of
people's experiences with the public education system and the
wisdom1 embedded in those stories are presented here. A
different kind of knowledge, practical wisdom, is needed to live
ethically and holistically in the world by helping us to understand 1
1 In this dissertation, the term "wisdom" is used as practical
knowledge; common sense, judgment, lore that is acquired through
interaction with the education system. I do not mean to imply that
every word in every story is a "wise" or profound one; however, I
do believe there are words of wisdom (useful insights and
information) embedded in each story.
2


how decisions about the education system interconnect and affect
political, economic, social, and other systems (Capra, 1996;
Schwandt, 1993). This practical wisdom is offered in these stories.
This dissertation is an utterance in an on-going
conversation (B. Ayers, personal communication, February 1997).
In this dissertation, I seek to unveil a snapshot of that
conversation through the stories of peoples experiences with the
public education system. Because this research is ultimately
intended to be shared with a wide and diverse audience, you will
be reading a nonfictional educational story (Barone, 1992). This
particular form of qualitative research creates a space for and
values personal voice and the sharing of personal perspectives
(M. Greene, 1995; Munro, 1993). It celebrates the uniqueness of
divergent voices and the practical wisdom embedded in those
voices. It also holds promise for making research studies appeal
to a wider audience, thus potentially impacting educational
practices, policies, public support, and systems (Zeller, 1995a).
One of the main distinctions of a nonfictional educational
story is its language: it is written in ordinary, everyday, informal
language (Barone, 1995; Stake, 1995). The stories in this
dissertation are based on narratives written by the storytellers
themselves and/or interviews (see Appendix A). Because the
focus of this study is their stories of their experiences with the
3


public education system, I have used their words as much as
possible. As you read this dissertation, you will notice that not all
the sentences are grammatically correct; you will encounter
jargon, contractions, and slang. Another distinction of the
nonfictional educational story is its conversational tone (Barone,
1990,1992,1995; Zeller, 1995b). Something that makes this
particular dissertation unique is the heavy use of italics. To set
the words of the storytellers apart from mine, their words are
presented in italic. This means you will encounter pages of italics.
These features are what make this dissertation a-typical.
This dissertation is presented in two parts. Part One is the
nonfictional educational story and encompasses Chapters One
through Eleven. Part Two is the final chapter, Chapter Twelve. It
provides details and background on the methodology used and
how the study was conducted. While the two parts of the
dissertation are related, they are presented in such a way that as
the reader, you may start at either point. This allows you to
choose the best way for you to interact with the text. If you would
prefer to first read about the methodology used, begin with Part
Two on page 241. If you would prefer to start reading people's
stories, continue reading on after the Prologue.
As I stated in the beginning, you will not find a distinct
chapter entitled "literature review." However, you will find a
4


literature review related to the conversation about educational
systemic change as I see it in Chapters 9-11 of Part One of the
dissertation and one related to narrative as research in Part Two,
Chapter 12.
I enter the current conversation about the education system
with a viewpoint: a large body of practical wisdom has been
deemed expendable by neglecting and/or ignoring the voices of
childless taxpayers, the homeless, parents, and even teachers.
These are the voices presented here. They are voices that need to
be authentically engaged in the discourse of educational systemic
change.
I invite you to enter this conversation, first as a reader who
brings your own assumptions and wisdom to interact with the
text; and perhaps later, engaged as a participant, furthering the
conversation.
5


CHAPTER 1
WELCOME TO THE TERRAIN: INTRODUCTION
The sky was a gorgeous Colorado sapphire blue, the
temperature in the mid-30's, and the mountain had fresh snow
a skier's dream. Standing at the top of Outhouse, a double
diamond (i.e., very difficult) run on the Mary Jane side of Winter
Park that has a formidable reputation, I remember thinking, "It
looks manageablehow much more could there be after the
bend?" I was a naive, but willing to take risks, intermediate skier.
Kent, who had skied for years and was experienced to the point
that this would be cake for him, did not have to work too hard to
convince me Outhouse was do-able. Besides, it was the best route
to the part of the mountain we wanted to ski next. So, off I went.
Immediately, I found myself swallowed by a jeep-size
mogul.2 I remember thinking, "Funny, these moguls didn't look
this big from the top!" The mountain's enticingly deceptive
2 Moguls are bumps on ski slopes that come in various shapes and
sizes, from wide and smooth to steep and gargantuan (i.e., jeep-
size).
6


terrain had revealed itself and there was no easy way out. Kent,
who had with effortless grace bumped his way down a bit,
patiently waited for me to extract myself from the crevasse that
had swallowed me. "You can do it! It's not that bad!" he
encouragingly shouted up at me.
Assessing my plight, I realized there were skiers of varying
ability on this run. Some, like Kent, were bumping their way
down, lithely dancing through the jeep-size moguls. Others, like
me, were strategizing how to survive Outhouse without hurting
themselves or their skis while staying out of the way of other
skiers! A handful of others appeared to have admitted this was
beyond their ability, had removed their skis and were walking
down the rest of the run.
I noticed a young boy slightly further down the run than
me. He appeared to also be strategizing how to get down
Outhouse, a few moguls at a time. I decided to follow his lead.
The pattern for both of us became: attempt to ski for a bit, be
swallowed by a jeep-size mogul, check to see youre not in anyone
else's way, extract yourself from the crevasse, make another
attempt. This proved to be a slow but sure way to get down the
run. The answer to, "How much more could there be beyond the
bend?" turned out to be "Lots!"
7


The boy I was following apparently had been strongly
encouraged to ski down Outhouse by his father and older brother:
they impatiently called to him to hurry up and catch up with
them. Once they realized the ski a bit-get swallowed-extract-try it
again was going to be a repeated pattern, they called to the boy,
telling him to, "Meet us at the bottom. Meanwhile, Kent, who
could have danced down Outhouse several times by now,
patiently created his own pattern: ski a short playful dance and
turn to keep a watchful eye on both me and the young boy. Forty-
five minutes later, I (and the boy) had survived Outhouse,
relieved to be at the bottom yet feeling an exhilarating sense of
accomplishment for having successfully strategized a way down
that didn't hurt anyone!
Welcome to the terrain of (educational) systemic change!
Like Outhouse, this terrain can be enticingly deceptive. On the
surface, the issues look manageablejust as Outhouse looks
manageable from the top. But, instead of jeep-size moguls that
swallow you, we find issues that are so complex, their complexity
cannot be fully fathomed until you are caught in the midst of
them. Once caught in the midst of them, there are no easy routes
out. Just as I found a guide to get me down Outhouse, we need
guides to get us through the complexity of educational systemic
change. In this nonfictional educational story (Barone, 1992),
8


those guides will be found in the form of divergent voices, voices
that are familiar with different aspects of the overall terrain. Just
as there is more than one specific way to get down Outhouse,
there is more than one way to negotiate through the complexity
of educational systemic change. Divergent ways of negotiating
this complexity are presented in the following pages in the form
of people's stories of their experiences with the education system.
Nonfictional Educational Stories
Stories are all around us and provide a rich source for
research. "Humans are storytelling organisms who, individually
and socially, lead storied lives" (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990, p. 2).
Narratives are created quite naturally as we make of sense of and
give meaning to events in our lives (Chase, 1995; Connelly &
Clandinin, 1988; Cortazzi, 1993; Mattingly, 1991; Polkinghorne,
1988; Reason & Hawkins, 1988). We are surrounded by narrative
knowing as we learn to read stories in school, learn about
important historical events, watch movies and TV shows, tell a
friend or spouse how our day went (Polkinghorne, 1988). A
"nonfictional educational story is a narrative. It is nonfictional
in that it is based on events that really happened and/or
9


experiences people really had. It is "educational" in this case
because the setting is the education system and what emerges may
persuade readers to rethink their own role or situation (Barone,
1995) related to systemic change efforts.
Nonfictional educational stories are typically found in
popular literature and are composed in the style and format of
literary journalism (Barone, 1992). They focus on human
experience and "bring theoretical ideas about the nature of
human life as lived to bear on educational experience as lived"
(Connelly & Clandinin, 1990, p. 3).
Telling stories is a very human thing to do and we all have
stories. In fact, telling our stories might be the most human thing
we do. By telling stories, we remember our past, invent our
present, revision our future, discover compassion and create
community with kindred souls (Keen & Valley-Fox, 1973). Just as
the skis were the implement that allowed me to travel down the
terrain of Outhouse, stories will be the implement that steer us
through the terrain of educational systemic change. More detail
about the nonfictional educational story and narrative as research
is provided in Part Two of this dissertation (pp. 241-280).
10


Divergent Voices. Divergent Connections
According to Wheatley (1992b), "We cannot hope to
influence any situation without respect for the complex network
of people who contribute to our organizations" (pp. 144,145).
Parents, students, community members along with school
employees are all involved in bringing about meaningful
systemic change in the public education system. Chrislip and
Larson (1994) define stakeholders as
those people who are responsible for problems or issues,
those who are affected by them, those whose perspectives
or knowledge are needed to develop good solutions or
strategies, and those who have the power and resources to
block or implement solutions and strategies (p. 65).
This definition encompasses the complex network of people who
contribute to the organization referred to here as the education
system. Stakeholder analysis (determining who or what is
affected by decisions), adds to this definition. Lewis (1991)
describes the following as "affected" stakeholders:
Internal: those who work for the (education) system.
External and direct: those who are "clients" of the system.
External and indirect: those who have a general interest in
the system.
11


This description of stakeholders additionally describes the
complex network of people who contribute to the education
system. The vast majority of Americans have experienced the
educational system, through attending public or private schools
or home-schooling. Consequently, we are all stakeholders in the
future of the educational system and have stories to contribute to
the systemic change process. Creating opportunities for divergent
voices to share their stories is crucial to the systemic change
process:
When a community loses its memory, its members
no longer know one another. How can they know one
another if they have forgotten or have never learned one
another's stories? If they do not know one another's
stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one
another? People who do not trust one another do not help
one another, and moreover, they fear one another
(Wendell, 1990, p. 157). So to have a sense of
community, we have to know each other's storiesnot
necessarily to have the same experiencesin order to trust
each other (Chrislip and Larson, 1994, p. 162).
Waddock (1995) says, "In short, anyone with an interest in better
education should be an active participant in the dialogue about
education" (p. 170). Wagner (1995/1996) further states, "When
groups hear one another, they begin to see the connections
between their concerns and those of others" (p. 44).
More than any other social species we engage in collective
thinking, and in doing so we create a world of culture and
12


values that becomes an integral part of our natural
environment (Capra, 1982, p. 298).
That collective thinking is represented in divergent voices. These
voices need to be heard in the systemic change process. "Voice" is
a means to make ourselves heard, understood, and listened to,
defining ourselves as active participants in our communities
(Giroux, 1988). Hearing divergent voices helps us better
understand what different groups mean when they talk about
systemic change in education (Carr, A. A. 1995; Wagner,
1995/1996). If we believe public schools belong to the entire
community and should serve that community (Decker & Decker,
1988), we need to hear the community's voice. If we believe
education is a system, including not only the school itself, but also
the home and community, these perspectives (Hiemstra, 1972)
must be brought to light. Merz and Furman (1997) tell us
schools may be one of the few social institutions left that
bridge the gap between the individual or family and the
larger civic society. Citizens need to voice their values and
preferences as a means of shaping society (p. 97).
As there are many divergent voices that contribute to the
organization referred to here as the education system, there can be
divergent solutions and suggestions for improving the system.
Perhaps we will find that divergent solutions can co-exist. Just as
13


there was more than one type of skier on Outhouse, we find a
variety of people interested in contributing to the education
system. Some of the people in the complex network that
contributes to the education system are quite familiar with it
because they work in the system or they create policy for the
system. Others are familiar with it because they have children in
the system and interact with it from that orientation. Still others
interact with the system from a distance, yet because of their own
experiences in schools, have an interest in the education system.
And even though the issues can be daunting in their complexity,
perhaps it is the challenge of creating feasible solutions that
entices people to even be involved in educational systemic
change. Perhaps it is the desire to contribute to our immediate
communities, of which the education system is an integral part,
that draws us into these issues. Perhaps it is the hope of feeling
that exhilarating sense of accomplishment, born of seeing
something through to the end even though there were many fits
and starts along the way.
In the stories presented here, you will hear divergent
voices. In any study, who participates is determined by who the
researcher has access to, and constraints such as time and
resources. In this case, accessibility and willingness to participate
primarily determined who the storytellers would be. Not every
14


aspect of the complex network of people who contribute to the
education system is illustrated in these eight stories, however, the
voices are still divergent in many ways (see Appendix A, "Voices
in Dissertation"). They come from different geographical areas
(Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona). Their level of education ranges
from high school drop out to second year doctoral student. Their
current socio-economic status or the one they were raised in
ranges from poverty level to modest wealth. Their ages range
from teenagers to forty-something. The constraints of time and
resources made it impossible to illustrate every aspect of that
complex network of people and at the same time, those
constraints provide direction for further research.
The voices you will hear describe divergent connections to
the education system. Most all of us are connected to the
education system because we have received an education. The
people you will read about here are additionally connected
through family and friends, through their children, through their
employment, or simply because they pay taxes that fund the
education system. Sometimes, these connections are concrete and
obvious. In other instances, they are so abstract, the connection
goes unnoticed by the person themselves.
To illustrate the complex network which contributes to the
organization we call the education system, four main types of
15


voices are presented. First, you will hear from two people whose
primary connection to the education system is that they are
taxpayers who fund the system (external and indirect
stakeholders). Next, you will hear from three high school drop
outs (external and direct stakeholders) who are also homeless, a
voice that is disenfranchised in many ways. Then, you will hear
from two people who are parents, one who is a brand new parent
and one who has had children attending school for a number of
years (external and direct stakeholders). Finally, you will hear the
"expert" voice, "expert because they are two people who work or
have worked in the education system as teachers (internal
stakeholders).
The stories presented came from narratives written by each
person and/or interviews (see Appendix A). To make their words
distinct from mine, their words are in italic. While this may
make it a bit harder to read, I found it important to make it clear
when their words are theirs instead of mine. As these are their
stories, I strove to honor that by using their words as much as
possible. Each person was given the choice of being called by a
pseudonym or using their own name. All but one chose to be
called by a pseudonym; two chose their first-name pseudonym
and the others had me choose a pseudonym. The majority of the
16


names and places referred to throughout this nonfictional
educational story are pseudonyms as well.
Honoring .Wisdom
A word of caution: This nonfictional educational story is
not about "right" solutions or recipes for successful systemic
change efforts. Rather, it is about realizing there may be several
acceptable and feasible solutions to complex problems.
We have focused for a long time on trying to discover
whats right. We have taken things apart, sifting through
our analysis for the right answer, creating more and more
debris, surrounded by numbers that overwhelm us with
dissatisfaction (Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers, 1996a, p. 15).
What if we were to realize "there are no permanently right
answers" (Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers, 1996a, p. 13), freeing us to
allow experimentation? If there is a recipe or "right" solution,
perhaps it lies in the processes used to engender systemic change
rather than the specific outcomes generated from those processes.
As you read these stories, I ask that you suspend judgment
and carry on your own internal dialogue. For example, let's say
you believe the education system is sorely in need of reform.
17


When you hear Mark Jasen attribute that idea to media
sensationalism, rather than jump to a conclusion that he is
obviously wrong, consider the evidence he presents and try to
understand how he arrived at that statement. Lets say you
believe there is really nothing terribly wrong with the current
state of education. When you hear Gillian and Keith Sherwood
say, "The school board sucks!" again, rather than decide they do
not know what they are talking about, consider the evidence they
have presented that helped them arrive at that statement. You
will hear Douglas Morton propose a controversial way to fund the
education system. Whether you like his idea or not, consider the
reasoning behind his proposal. Hold your own thought and
consider the implications of Mark, Gillian and Keith, or Douglas
being correct in their statements. And use that to further examine
your own beliefs about the education system.
This research is about honoring each others wisdom:
Teachers need to honor the wisdom of teachers;
Teachers need to honor the wisdom of students;
The school needs to honor the wisdom of the
community;
The community needs to honor the wisdom of the
school.
(November, 1993)
It is about allowing this wisdom to emerge and evolve through
examining divergent connections. It is about allowing new
18


information to be generated because diverse voices are in the
conversation (Wheatley, 1992a). It is about allowing ourselves to
be "disturbed" by divergent voices.
By "disturb" I do not mean "bothered." Rather, I mean
allow yourself to be challenged to examine your own thoughts,
beliefs, perceptions about the education system by listening to
different voices, voices that may be very different from your own.
According to Wheatley and Kellner-Rogers (1996b), we can never
direct another living system, we can only disturb it. The
education system is a living system: a complex network of people
contributes to it and gives it life. This research is about disturbing
that system by respecting that complex network of people enough
to invite them into the conversation. It is about exploring who
else needs to be invited into the conversation about educational
systemic change and inviting divergent voices, voices that are not
typically invited or heard. It is about ushering in the intelligence
(Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers, 1996b) of those divergent voices,
intelligence that is many times blocked from contributing to the
organization called the education system. It is about making this
wisdom indispensable to educational systemic change efforts
rather than expendable. It is about listening to others and
realizing, whether we like it or not, when we truly listen to
others, what they say becomes part of us (Briggs, 1992). It is about
19


authentically engaging this wisdom in conversations about
educational systemic change.
Furthering the Dialogue
Increasing the number of people included in conversations
about education can cause stress on the system. After all, how
many voices can really be listened to and honored when policies
need to be made and programs created? How would it be possible
to satisfy all the stakeholders who are that complex network
contributing to the organization called the education system? I
suggest that practicing dialogue is one step towards honoring the
complex network that contributes to the education system. In this
context, "dialogue" is distinct from "discussion." The word
"dialogue" comes from the Greek where "logos" refers to "word"
or "speech," and can also refer to "thought," "reason," or
"judgment" (Burbules, 1993). "Dia" means "through," "between,"
or "across" (Burbules, 1993). I refer to Bohm's description of
dialogue: "The picture or image that this derivation suggests is of
a stream of meaning flowing among, through us and between us"
(Bohm, 1990, p. 1). This stands in contrast to the word
"discussion" which really means to break things up and
20


emphasizes the idea of analysis (Bohm, 1990). In dialogue,
complex issues are explored as a means towards discovering a
new view whereas in discussion, different views are presented
and defended so as to reach a decision (Senge, 1990).
The flow of meaning created by "dialogue" creates new
understandings, understandings which did not exist before.
Bohm refers to this as "shared meaning," the glue that holds
people and societies together (Bohm, 1990). Wheatley and
Kellner-Rogers (1996b) call it "shared significance." By practicing
"dialogue" as divergent voices are listened to, beautiful, intricate,
rich patterns emerge which can serve to honor the wisdom of the
complex network that contributes to the organization called
"education." "In the sense that dialogue is a sharing through
meaning, it is a community-building form of conversation"
(Jenlink & Carr, 1996, p. 33). If I am willing to give up my position
in order to create shared meaning or shared significance, I
participate in creating something that did not exist before,
something that honors my wisdom as well as that of others in
this complex network.
After reading all the stories presented here, you may come
to one of several possible conclusions. You may determine these
stories are not relevant or useful. You may find your beliefs have
been validated or confirmed. You may have heard something
21


that causes you to re-examine an assumption. You may have
actually been "disturbed" and changed your position or belief.
Whatever the case, what others have said will have become part
of you through your interaction with their ideas. Whatever your
conclusion, use that to consider who else needs to be invited into
this conversation and begin a new conversation, furthering the
dialogue. For it is through conversation that we share our
perceptions and have an opportunity to created shared
significance (Wheatley & Kellner-Rogers, 1996b).
"The school must first learn from those it wishes to teach,
so that the community's valued collective perspective regarding
the purpose of schooling is clear" (Quint, 1994, p. 17). What
would the education system look like if we created shared
significance around the purpose of education in our
communities? What would be possible and who wants to join in
creating shared significance? I invite you to suspend those
questions before you as you listen to divergent voices, explore
divergent connections to the education system, and consider the
practical wisdom lingering, willing to be invited into dialogic
conversations about educational systemic change.
22


CHAPTER 2
ELAINE MADISON:
WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY SAY THAT
WOULD BE RELEVANT OR VALUABLE?!
What could I possibly say that would be relevant or
valuable?! This from a woman who was successfully completing
an eighteen month prestigious horse training apprenticeship.
You realize I have no direct connection with the school
system...except maybe for attending sporting events and concerts
to watch my nephews or nieces or something like that. Are you
sure you meant to ask me?
Was I sure I wanted Elaine to participate in this research?
A woman who has held past careers ranging from floral designer
to office manager to pastor's wife to horse trainer extraordinaire?
A woman who now carries a certification in John Lyons Horse
Training Methods, who many consider to be the crdme de la
cr&me of the horse world? A woman who can play the piano at
the level of a concert pianist as easily as she can fashion a
beautifully intricate quilt? A woman who currently manages a
23


small ranch in rural Colorado? A woman whose husband fondly
characterizes as "an incredibly talented and gifted lady"? Of
course I did! I knew Elaine would have a perspective to share
regarding the education system. As we begin to explore the
terrain of educational systemic change, Elaine serves as our
"multi-talented childless taxpayer guide.
It is evident that the Madisons are utterly devoted to one
another. Even after twenty-some years of marriage, they are
clearly head over heels in love with each other. Early in their
marriage, after the heartbreak of miscarriage, they discovered and
accepted the fact that Elaine was unable to have children. They
made a deliberate decision not to adopt. They felt by remaining a
childless couple, they could make themselves more available to a
wider range of children. They would have more time and more
opportunity to interact with a wide variety of children if they did
not have children of their own. And they have demonstrated
this in actions such as taking the children of family members or
friends for the weekend to give the parents time alone or taking
nephews and nieces on summer vacations to places like
Yellowstone.
So yes, Elaine was correct in saying she had no obvious
connection to the school system. Except that she, like all the rest
of us, funds the system through paying taxes. She also, like most
24


of US/ has a connection through having attended public school
through high school. After high school, Elaine attended and
graduated from a private college in California. Her sophomore
year of college, she re-entered the public school system and
attended a local junior college for two semesters. Elaine is typical
of the seventy percent of us who fund the public education system
today (Friedenberg, 1994): she has no children of her own, is not
employed by the system, any related interests are based upon what
my nieces and nephews are or are not being taught/leaming. As
far as I was concerned, by her response, she just had contributed
something incredibly valuable and relevant to this research!
I loved to go to school!
Elaine's own experience with the public education system was
generally positive. She states, Learning and continuing education
have always been a major influence in my life. I consider myself
a "life-long learner." Elementary school was especially positive:
As far back as 1 can remember, school was always a positive
influence in my life. I loved to go to school! To this day, I can
still recall by name, all elementary grade teachers that I had. Each
one was very different, but as I reflect back, there was a thread of
25


commonality that ran through each one of these teachers. That
thread was caring. These teachers did more than was required to
make the classroom an interesting, exciting and fun place to learn.
I recall that several of my teachers were very verbal and
influential in the moral development of us children. We
discussed and studied at length about morality, drinking, drugs,
smoking, etc. Yes, this was all in a public school setting! Religion
was never discussed, but morality certainly was.
My sixth grade teacher offered to all of us students the
opportunity to learn how to play the ukulele. What a ball we
had! One day a week, we would stay after school and he would
instruct us on the basics of music reading, tuning, playing, etc.
We had a ukulele band. Almost every student in the class was
involved, and on a voluntary basis.
I also remember that the majority of the time, the
classroom was under control. If anyone ever misbehaved or
became a problem, off to the principal's office! Detention,
linewalking at recess, staying after school, etc. all played a role in
our discipline. As students we knew what was expected of us.
Most everyone did well. I look back now and remember those
few kids who were problems in an early grade. This seemed to be
a problem all throughout their educational process.
26


I always felt that my teachers and I had a rapport with one
another. I zoos never afraid to approach a teacher if I had
questions and needed help. I always tried to do my best, thus I
was called "Teacher's Pet" on more than one occasion.
As. a youth, the obstacle appeared, mountainous
Although Elaine had an overall positive experience in her
K-12 years, she did have a bad experience with a particular teacher
in junior high. This experience influenced her career path:
Junior High school was a whole different ball of wax! I
encountered the first teacher ever that I hated! As I look back, l
think Mr. K must have been as frustrated with all of us as we
were with him! He taught beginning Algebra. Being the concrete
thinker that I am, there was no way that A + B = C.
Unfortunately, Mr. K couldn't explain to me the abstract concept
behind the math. I struggled with advanced math, because of this
weak foundation, all through the remaining years of junior high
and high school. I did extra credit, I stayed after school, I had a
math tutor. But Mr. K was so confusing, that I never felt like I
grasped anything. His class became bedlam! Everyone revolted!
We were angry, he was angry, the parents were angry. My
27


parents, as well as other parents even came and sat in on some
classes. I feel there was a language barrier problem. Mr. K was
from Korea and his English was very broken and hard to
understand. He was a very intelligent man, but he could not
teach math to us junior high kids.
As a result of my struggles in math (even though I did go
on to complete math through advanced Trigonometry), 1 felt like
I could not pursue and be successful at applying for a college
degree in veterinary medicine. No one but myself, ever told me
that I could not handle the math portion of a medical degree. As I
look back now from a more mature viewpoint, I feel like I could
have succeeded with the math portion, but as a youth, the obstacle
appeared mountainous.
Elaine found a way to pursue her love of working with
horses without a veterinary degree. Today, she is self-taught to
the point that when she has a problem with one of her horses, the
local veterinarian tends to trust Elaine's diagnosis and treatment
plan. However, this story illustrates the powerful influence even
one teacher can have on a life.
28


Secondhand observations
When considering the current state of education, Elaine
admits her observations are secondhand. Having no children of
her own in the system, her perceptions are shaped by watching
and hearing the experiences of her siblings and their children.
However, as a taxpayer, she automatically funds the system she
observes from a distance. She shares what she has gleaned
secondhand.
I have watched my nieces and nephews progress through
the educational system, such as it is. /Is a taxpayer, with no
children of my own, I do feel a sense of frustration about what
appears to be a lack of viable learning that is going on in the
schools. It appears that the system has become so reactive that it
prevents teachers from being able to do the very thing they are
hired to doand that is to educate. Teachers today must be
concerned with the lack of support coming from the home, the
lack of discipline coming from the home, the lack of moral
development coming from the home, etc. Legally, their hands are
tied. They can no longer discipline when it is necessary, and they
can no longer feel comfortable giving a genuine pat or touch
when it is needed. From what I have observed, most teachers are
there to do their time and get paid. A big portion of class time is
29


spent in crowd control. Some time is spent in lecture and a lot of
class time is spent in doing the assigned class homework. Books
are not allowed out of the classroom. The desire for learning
appears to be almost non-existent.
Elaine is keenly aware of the multiple forces influencing
the education system. She spoke of the home as a factor affecting
the learning process. She goes on to share her perception of the
system itself:
I dont want to appear negative toward teachers. I feel that
most of these people are in this profession because they have a
desire to educate others. The system itself has become the
negative. But the system itself reflects what society will or will
not allow. The home has become disorderly and stressed. As a
result so has the education system. People in general want to do
what feels good and what they can get away with. As a result, this
same philosophy of life has been passed on to their children.
Divorce and the lack of discipline in the home have greatly
impacted children and as a result, this out of control behavior is
seen in the classroom. The teachers today have no backing or
support in classroom discipline. Any teacher that maintains
control is considered "strict* and "difficult." Students avoid them
like the plague, if at all possible.
30


I think that the frustration with the system breaks the
"spirit of the caring teachers. In order to survive in the system,
they become remote, cut and dried, do what's required of them
and no more.
Elaine reiterates what we know already: there is no one
issue that needs to be addressed, rather, there is a myriad of issues
that need to be addressed. Like the moguls on Outhouse that do
not look so bad from a distance, issues facing educators today can
appear relatively simple on the surface. Some think if teachers
would only discipline their students, things would be fine. But as
Elaine points out, there are many reasons teachers do not simply
take control of the classroom. Like the moguls that quickly
become jeep-sized, issues in education today are quite complex.
Considering only a student's home life or only a student's
interaction with a teacher provides pieces of a picture but not the
whole picture. We see the values and plight of society reflected in
schools: one manifestation of this is the metal detectors and
presence of security in schools today. Another manifestation,
cited by Elaine, is confusion: There seems to be confusion over
what's important to teach: they teach world awareness and
humankinds fate instead of the basics. Kids aren't taught to
think critically. The lack of discipline also is a lack of mental
discipline: kids don't seem to know how to formulate goals,
31


establish routines, follow something through to the end. And,
these public reflections are funded by taxpayers such as Elaine.
I feel like my voice doesn't count
As a taxpayer, with no children of my own in the system, I
feel like my voice doesn't count. After all, because I don't have
kids, how could I know what is best for other people's children?
The only influence that I might be able to have on the system, is
to become actively involved in it. I have watched with
frustration, how my own siblings have tried to work within the
system. Without going down to the school and getting right in
someone's face, the educational well-being of one of my nieces
was compromised. She was lost in the school's computer, along
with 30+ other students, as she entered junior high school. As a
result, she was thrown out of the learning track that she had pre-
registered for. One of her substitute classes involved learning
how to play games. For an entire quarter, this class learned how
to play card games, chess, dominoes, etc. This is what I as a
taxpayer am paying for?! One of my nephews was astute enough
to realize that the spelling list from grade 7 was the exact same list
in grade 8.
32


What does this say about how taxpayer money is being
spent? Why can't the education system teach what used to be the
basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills effectively? I have a
problem voting in more money for schools, when I see todays
youth still struggling with the basics of education at the high
school level In fact, I voted against the last bond issue because
they weren't specific about how they were going to use the money
to improve education.
Sometimes it's frustrating. Just recently, my nephew
flunked Algebra 1. He could successfully do the workbook
exercises but couldn't pass the test so he flunked the course. He
talked to the teacher who then worked with him in the
workbook. He did OK in the workbook and working with her but
she didn't know what to do to help him pass the tests. The
teacher didn't talk to the parents or recommend testing to see if
there could be a learning disability or something. And I'm not his
parent so all I can do is look on.
Without becoming actively involved in the education
system, I see no circumstances under which I might have a
meaningful influence.
33


If it were up to me
For observing from a distance, Elaine has discerning
insights about what she would do if she were in a position to
have a meaningful influence.
If it were up to me, heres how I would change the current
educational system. I would consider giving teachers back the
power and control that they once freely had in their own
classrooms. Who cares if an old text book has better information
in it than the newer, more expensive one? Is it really necessary to
threaten a teachers job if they try to incorporate the old book with
the new one? Teachers need to feel they have support from the
principal and the school board.
Hire school board personnel that are genuinely interested
in the education and learning of the student, instead of being
more concerned about their salary increases and what type of car
they are being provided (all with taxpayer dollars).
Get parents more involved in the education of their
children. Maybe homework assignments that actually go home
and where mom or dad will need to sit down with the child and
assist in the education of their son or daughter? A better way for
parents and teachers to communicate with one another, on a
more frequent basis if necessary, other than the quarterly parent-
24


teacher conference. By the time this conference roles around, if
your child is having difficulty in a class, it is really difficult to
catch-up or correct the problem. Time just doesn't permit it.
As I have rambled on here, I keep thinking back to what
has changed. I believe our society has changed and as a result our
educational system has changed as well. Maybe that's good,
maybe it's not. I see a lot of young people today who have no
desire to learn. They are "bored." School's boring, home is
boring. Life in general is boring. Our society has become
entertainment sensitized! If something doesn't entertain, then
screw it, it's boring!
It saddens me that positive learning at school seems to be
nonexistent for a lot of older children. Maybe they feel like no
one cares. Maybe they don't care enough about themselves to
improve, to grow in knowledge, etc. Kids seem to have such
fatalistic attitudes, like they don't believe they're going to live
long because theyll be shot or have to go off to war or something.
And that saddens and concerns me because I believe "as a man
thinkith, so is he." In other words, attitude is critical because
attitude shows up in behavior.
My hat is off to all the teachers who are still striving and
working hard at helping children learn. It must truly be a
rewarding, yet frustrating job. My philosophy of "education is
35


that the teacher hasnt taught until the student has learned. So
for me, that means its the teachers job to change methods and
try new things until youve reached the student. Thats what
John Lyons did with us in the certification course. And it was
over a year before we got into his brain and started asking
questions with meat! So if l was a teacher, I think Id be
exhausted!
We all impact each other
As a taxpayer with no children in the system, why would
someone like Elaine state, kids and education are important to
me? She said herself, how could l know what is best for other
people's children? Elaine responded to this inquiry by explaining,
We impact each other by what we do or dont accomplish.
Theres a mushroom effect: someday, these kids will be in
leadership positions. I see education and the home as being inter-
related. The parents goal should be to present the most effective
way to succeed in life and get kids to the point where they can
make it on their own. Even if you 're a single parent working two
jobs, you need to be involved in your kids' education because
they're YOUR responsibility.
36


Ultimately, parents need to cultivate a desire to learn, but
they're busy earning a living. Cultivation of learning, caring,
nurturing is getting lost which leaves the responsibility to a
teacher. A teacher can't really do that when they're responsible
for 30 or so kids per class. But a teacher could help kids learn to
reason and think critically. My ukulele teacher taught us to
think! My husband and I teach our nieces and nephews to think
by having them follow a discussion through to the end and not
get upset, see differing viewpoints, ask intelligent questions and
make their own educated decision. Kids are impressionable and
they need to know how to weigh the truth (pro's and cons) and
make their own decisions; think for themselves and know why
they believe what they believe.
And this all has an impact on society. If kids can t think
critically or make it on their own, thats going to effect society.
Wisdom displaced
"Sometimes someone's gift is only recognized by others
because they themselves aren't dear about it" (Wheatley &
Whyte, 1996). As someone whose primary connection to the
education system is as a taxpayer, Elaine has wisdom to offer the
37


system; wisdom she herself may not recognize. Those whose
primary connection is through paying taxes are rarely invited to
participate in a district or school's change efforts. Because their
participation is not sought out, it would appear that their
perspective is not valued. And because they are not sought out,
this reinforces the perception that the perspective of the childless
taxpayer is not valuable. Thus Elaine's initial response to me:
What could / say that would be relevant or valuable? It is much
easier to invite those who already work in the system along with
parents and students to participate in change efforts. After all,
these people have direct connections to a school. It would take
extra effort to reach out to taxpayers in the community, effort that
may not be supported by time or funding. However, by not taking
the time and effort to reach out to this group of people, wisdom is
lost.
Even horn a distance, Elaine recognizes the complexity of
issues faced by educators today. Elaine holds the assumption that
teachers are there to educate, yet many forces keep them from
being able to do that. The evidence she offers to support her
assumption is how society has changed and this is reflected in
schools. She cites the prevalence of divorce, perceived lack of
discipline and lack of moral development in the home as
reflections of a disorderly and stressed society. This is manifested
38


in schools by teachers not being allowed to discipline students for
fear of potential legal action. Elaine also cites the propensity of
society to want to be entertained which makes traditional lecture
in the classroom boring. Her conclusion is that the desire to learn
suffers.
I find it intriguing that Elaine chose to be certified in a
horse training method that is based on three principles: the horse
should not get injured, the trainer should not get injured, and the
horse should be calmer at the end of the training session than
when it began. The John Lyons Horse Training Method carries
clout in the horse world because it is distinct from traditional
training methods. Under the traditional method, the horse
submits to the trainer. Using the John Lyons method, the trainer
forms a partnership with the horse. I heard this echoed in
Elaine's observations of the education system: education is, or
should be, a partnership primarily between parents and the
schools. No one should get hurt; ideally, because of the education
experience, everyone (parents, students, teachers, and even
society) should be better off. Yet this does not seem to be
happening in today's society. Everyone's too tired, was Elaine's
conclusion. Meanwhile, she as a taxpayer, must continue to fund
what she describes as a lack of viable learning that is going on in
the schools.
39


We have only begun to explore the terrain of educational
systemic change and already, the issues have become deceptively
complex! The moguls are immediately becoming larger than they
looked from the top of the run! As someone who's primary
connection to the education system is being a taxpayer, Elaine
offers one perspective; a perspective I found quite relevant and
valuable! Douglas Morton provides another voice and will guide
us through the next section of terrain.
40


CHAPTER 3
DOUGLAS MORTON:
THEY HAVE "MOM DAY AND "DAD" DAY.
WHEN DO THEY EVER HAVE
"NEIGHBOR" DAY?!
If I went up just to start playing with kids on a playground,
to be with kids, they're going to say, "Oh! This child molester!
Oh, what's going on here? Oh, which kid is he a father of that
he's trying to steal from the mother?" So I think I feel like it's a
place that I'm not welcomed and my evidence would be the
locked doors, the people you meet when you walk into a school,
the fences around them that are not simply to keep children in
but to keep adults out. There are no programs. It is an
unwelcoming place.
Douglas Morton speaks from a mosaic of experiences with
the education system. This 37-year old was primarily schooled in
a prestigious East-coast military academy. He did spend two years
of his K-12 education in urban inner dty public schools. One year
was during junior high; the second year was his senior year in
high school when he decided to "come home" to finish up. He
41


speaks as a college graduate, having received his Bachelor's from
the University of Colorado at Boulder where he actively
participated in a fraternity. To this day, he maintains ties to his
fraternity brothers and faithfully attends CU-Buff games. He
speaks as a graduate student, currently completing his Master's at
the University of Colorado at Denver. He speaks as an employer,
working in the student loan industry as an assistant manager for
the past eleven years. In this capacity, he has been involved in
the hiring for entry level positions. He speaks as a concerned
Uncle: his five-year old nephew just made the transition from
private to public school this year. And last, but certainly not least,
Douglas speaks as a taxpayer: single, with no children, he is still
required to fund the public education system. As we continue to
explore the terrain of educational systemic change, Douglas's
voice will guide us through the land of "well-educated single
male childless taxpayer and employer."
You're like a robot
Douglas's primary characterization of his K-12 years was, It
was more like babysitting sessions and boring. No challenges.
And you would just sit there. And they'd have you read if the
42


teacher didn't feel well or they'd have you...the classes were just
not challenging. And some classes, more than anything, it was
just lecture, lecture, lecture! No participation, no group work,
nothing stimulating, nothing to get us ready for the world, short
of your basic lectures. And it could have been a lot more fun and
exciting and stimulating and it just wasn't there.
He also recalls those years being punctuated with incidents
of prejudice and bigotry: I'll never forget the first day I went to
class in the city. I'd moved from the burbs actually into the city
and got into the classroomchoir class. Oh, maybe 40 people and
the teacher was probably a younger woman and this Black guy gets
up, right in the middle of a song and the song had ended and he
hits me. I wasn't sure why. I was brand new that day and I was
one of the only White guys in the whole class. And he says, "1
dare you to hit me back." And so I did! The whole class started
going "ooo, eee" and all that. They're like all upset about it and
everything. I got out of the classroom and I looked behind me.
And another White guy who sat next to me said, "When you get
outta here, run!" "Why?" He said, "Just run!" So I looked back
and there were probably, oh, maybe eight or ten Black guys that
were chasing me. Well, it turns out that was just one of many,
many similar experiences to follow.
43


The private military academy he attended for most of his
K-12 schooling was very structured, very British. There, You 're
up at 5:50, you're showered and dressed and ready to go by 6; your
bed is folded to the point you can bounce a quarter off of it; your
clothes are folded so that they line up identically and you even
put cardboard in them so that they look flat in the front. And
everythings absolutely perfect, everything's dusted. You run on
certain walksyour first year, you can't even take shortcuts; you
aren't allowed to walk; you chew so many times when you put
food in your mouth. The whole thing is very rigid and very, very
structured. The classes were usually ahead of the regular classes
in public school. (Although, when I went back home for my
senior year, the "advanced placement classes were advanced!)
And you seldom, if ever flunked because they didn 't want to
flunk you out because they needed the income. And if nothing
else, you learned more because you were forced to study between 7
and 9:30 every night. You sat at your desk, your light was on and
they had patrol monitors that would go up and down the hall,
that would check to make sure you were studying and you'd
better be at your desk!
Of course, there were some goofy things about Military
School. If Bob Hope or the President of the United States was
44


coming, we didn't go to class. It was more important that we
beautify the campus for donations or for the press.
This is the frame of reference Douglas uses when making
comparisons between public and private K-12 education. He
wonders why K-12 education (public or private) cannot be more
creative and stimulating. The classes were babysitting classes; you
learned very, very littleit was almost like you were going there
Just to get away every day. It was almost like a lot of kids were
there because their parents had to get rid of them during the day
time. Basically, everything is go in, read a chapter of a book, get a
lecture and get a test. Well, you know, OK, I guess thats how they
drill math and reading and writing into you. But until I got to
college, there was never any excitement, very little challenge and
it was like a daycare center. You know what I mean? For
example, in high school, how many times do you really get to say
anything?! You're like a robot going from bell to bell reading,
writingyou are, youre a robot and you just go through this
little structure. And its almost like schools dont have enough
money to make it exciting, they don't have enough imagination.
Douglas unabashedly admits, Im a talker, and I think the
biggest challenge is just having to shut up. Fifty minutes, every
class, and listening to one person go on and on and on. About
whatever they decided they were going to go on about.
45


People learning from people
By contrast Douglas found higher education spectacular!
You go in, you sit in a circle and everybody gets to share
experiences and talkin the graduate program, anyway.
Everybody gets to do a project. Everybody gets to talk about
ideaswhats going on in the real world, whats going on in their
life and apply the theory to the experiences in the classroom.
Most every class A) had a Prof or teacher who wanted to be there;
B) you knew what was expected at the beginning at the semester.
You knew what your papers were going to be, what the class was
going to be about; what you're going to learn. Most of the time,
you would have a group, you would get an independent project,
often you would get to pick what you're going to do yourself and
usually it was a project like to study a marketing project, study a
hotel or one time we did hot tubsthe new revolution of hot
tubs in the early 80's. And we drove a portable hot tub to the
front of the business school. This hot tub was on wheels, had an
engine, a steering wheel and was available for lease! Everybody
ran out there to hear our report on hot tubs while we're soaking
in a hot tub. And it was just a lot more fun! You could be
creative; you were allowed to do new things and try new ideas
and things that really affected the world!
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Douglas did manage to recall a couple of good experiences
in high school. Not surprisingly, these were times he was able to
actively participate in a project. For example, I had one class (it
was a business class) and the teacher allowed us to pick 100 stocks
and we each got our portfolio. And I loved it because we could
make money or go broke depending on what we did. And we
could trade it. And we really learned a lot. It was real world, it
was practical, it wasn't just read a book and sit there and listen.
Another class in public school (you could tell a good teacher from
a bad one)we did a mock court trial. That was fun. Because you
got to play a roleeither a juror or a lawyer or whatever and that
was great because it was real life and it wasn't sitting at a desk
waiting for 45 minutes to pass.
However, the course that seems to have had the most
profound effect on Douglas was a course he took as sin
undergraduate. It's a science course. It teaches you about
population explosion, number one. What's the biggest problem
in our world? Too many people. Yeah, there's enough food but
we don't know how to distribute it. We are growing
exponentially. Figure out how many people that's going to be in a
hundred years. There won't be room to walk! It talked about the
greenhouse effect. What's wrong with our world? What are we
doing about our air, the pollution? It talked aboutthis was a
47


time when AIDS was just coming out and it talked about AIDS. It
talked about what's going on!
It takes a village
Echoing the awareness from the science course, Douglas's
philosophy is, Were on this planet together. We might as well
enjoy each other while were here. And I think we forget that we
should work together and enjoy each other. Theres so much
more to life. We have to read and we have to learn from books.
But we also have to learn from each other. In light of this, it
should not be surprising to hear Douglas state, Schools should be
a community.
If it was up to Douglas, public schools would cease to be this
total subculture place where you throw kids and instead would
become places that every single tax-paying citizen could utilize.
After all, its not just parents that fund schools, its every single
tax paying citizen in this country. Right?!
Lets make use of our senior citizens. Do you know how
many would love to come and just watch the kids at the
playground or talk and read a book to a class? Or you know, have
professional people come in and invite students to companies.
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You can tell that the two-parent working syndrome has really
effected kids. Therefore, I do believe the school needs to take
more than just an education role. It needs to take a recreational
role, more than just jumping jacks. Not everybody wants to just
play basketball. They need more activities. And budget cuts keeps
cutting everything out! They need to have swimming and they
need to have arts and drama groups and music groups and just
different typesa bicycle riding group even! You know bicycling
was something you never did in school! That was when you got
out! Well, why couldn't it be structured to be more part of the
school and part of the daycare program?
Additionally, there should be health centers out of schools
for kids that are homeless; for parents that are going through
divorces. There should be groups set up for kids that are going
through traumatic times at home so they can find friends to relate
to and share and have guidance as to how to get through these
periods at home. I mean there are so many better ways.
Douglas strongly believes it's everybody's part to put into
the education system. It's just like Hillary said, "It takes a
village." 1 truly believe for a better life, it takes a community.
Douglas vision of schools is reminiscent of Bateson's words:
I have come to think of homes as joint compositions,
frameworks of complementarity composed by difference
within which growth is possible. This concept can be
49


expanded to include schools and neighborhoods, the
workplace and the biosphere (Bateson, 1990, pp. 118-119).
Unfortunately, the education system does not necessarily make it
easy for people such as Douglas to contribute to the system.
It's very distant for me. It's a different world. It's not rmrtJifmv
everyday life.
Well, its like this. I don't have kids so I see very few
results, Douglas explains when asked to describe his connection
to the public school system. But we all derive social benefitsyou
know, we pay the social cost if we don't [fund education]. We pay
social costs anyway, but we get certain benefits out of it just like
the Military. Everybody gets benefits out of it. It's a government
entity, product. But as a man without any children, what do I
derive other than social, uncalculated benefits? Verses if
somebody had eight kids. What are they getting out of it? Eight
educated kids who probably don't pay as many taxes as I do.
But I think that the true issue is, I have absolutely zero
contact [with public schools] other than there's a very, very fine
public elementary school near here who has house tours where
we can go donate. I get requests for money: they can't get a tax
50


increase, would 1 like to send a donation? And I think they try to
do little things that kind of hint at community involvement. But
never once has there been any room for me in a school [to
participate or contribute]. The community has a responsibility to
become involved but it's got to start with the administration.
They've got to go out and get the community involved. They're
the administration, theyre the ones that should reach out.
They're the ones with the government funding. They've got the
money. Even if l went to them, what programs would they have
that 1 could participate in? What can I really, really doas a
single guy walking in to a school, "I want to help, I want to do
something," they're going to A) wonder what kind of a freak I am,
what I'm going to do to these kids, and worry about liability,
right? or B) What are they going to have for me? So you really
feel unwelcomed. You really do. So even if I wanted to, I
probably would not be welcomed. It doesn't fit their structure. I
would believe that unless you have a very rare administrator
who'd listen to you, you would not fit in their scheme of things.
Seems to me like the only thing schools really care about,
short of giving some education, are budget issues: we need more
money, we need more money, we need more money, we can't do
this, we need more money. We can't do this, we need more
money. Right? That's all they need: more money! Who
51


doesn't?! If I'm not walking in with a big ol' check, they don't
want me! I don't have any money! And they don'tright?!
Show meI'm sure theres a couple exceptions but...they
[schools] are locked off institutions. That's what they are. Sealed
off, secured institutions that are unwelcoming!! And
uninviting!!
When assessing his ability to meaningfully influence the
education system, Douglas concludes, Well, I haven't been able to.
What I have been able to do is work for United Way Big Brothers
and have a little brother for twelve years and help the community
in that way. But other than make a donation to my university, I
really dont have a clue [as to how to influence the education
system].
Theylre .my mild Qf.tomorrow
Douglas muses, Society has changed but schools haven't
adapted. For example: Now there are two parents that work or
it's no longer your two parents; now it's single parents or two
working parents or whatever. And they still have "mom day"
and "dad day" (I think) but when do they have "neighbor day",
you know?!
52


As far as funding public education, Douglas remarks, I'm
not so sure that it should only be by income or property tax. I'm
not sure that's the way to go. I think it should be by number of
kids. Again, if people leant from day one that 2.5 kids is more
than enough, any time you have more than two, the world is
growing in population. We don't need growth. This isn't a
"fraternity rush" thing here! And therefore, I truly believe that
there should be penalties or a "head tax" for parents if there are
over two kids. Now, that doesn't mean every kid doesn't have a
right to education, because every kid still has the right to the same
equal education. Everyone should pay the same per person flat
tax, whether they have no kids or up to two kids. But a person
that has nine kids should pay more. Except senior citizensthey
shouldn't have to pay into education at all since they've already
paid for a number of years. And we have to start treating our
senior citizens better.
Because he is convinced creativity is what makes people
tick, Douglas is insistent that schools incorporate much more
creativity into the curriculum. I guess there are good private
schools and there are bad private schools. And there are good
public schools and there are bad public schools. And I truly
believe it has to do with the faculty and the imagination and the
caring of the teachers. Yeah, l think budget also plays a little bit of
53


it. But I think you either get caring teachers or you don't. You get
creativity or you don't. And it's how much is the teacher allowed
to be creative too. Teachers are very, very confined in what they
can teach and how they can teach it today. I hear how they're
cutting music and cutting arts and cutting gym and basically,
they're slashing their own throats. If you got a room, you got a
bunch of kids and you got an adult, you can be creative. Now, you
can be different degrees of creative depending on how much
money you have. But there is no excuse for lack of creativity.
None whatsoever!
And I can't see where I would ever find anything offensive
that a teacher would do. Short of violence or physical abuse,
which would be appalling, of course. But I cannot see how new
ideas would ever, ever be offensive. Exception: religious beliefs
should be shared but not indoctrinated. That kind of thing. And
of course sex, etc. should be kept out until a certain age. I don't
know what that is but certainly you don't want to be teaching it in
first, second, and third grade. But, no! I am not a believer that
you cant teach Darwinism or you can't, you knowyou need
creativity. And the problem with our world is we're not creative.
Why is Douglas so passionate about this issue? I still feel,
and I think most Americans (I could be wrong) feel, even though
I don't have children, they're very important. They're our world
54


of tomorrow. They're my world of tomorrow. And because I
don't have kids, they're even more my world of tomorrow. And
because I dont have kids of my own, I'm not just concerned
about my kids, I'm concerned about all kids.
Douglas has many things to offer the education system.
Besides the funding he provides as a tax payer, he could
potentially go in and teach kids about money or talk about his
experiences in the work world or his travels around the world or
share his love of the symphony. From his years in the student
loan industry, he could talk about how student loans work and
how often do you really understand credit until you're so far in
debt you don't know what the hell you got yourself into? In this
world? And it's a big, big problem in our country. How often do
you really learn what "republican'' means? How many times did
you really follow a presidential election before college? And
really learn what these people stood for and what it meant to be
"republican" or "democratic"? Or what a new party might look
like? I would try to make it much more real world.
Ushering intelligence out of the system: Expendable wisdom
'Too often, organizations destroy our desires" (Wheatley &
Kellner-Rogers, 1996a, p. 57). What intelligence are we ushering
55


out of the educational system by intentionally or unintentionally
creating barriers? Barriers described by Douglas as, Iguess its
when you walk to a school, the doors are locked and when you
walk in, theres hall monitors wondering who you are. And if
youre not a parent, you dont have business there, you better get
out. Because, and rightfully so, they're worried about the security
of kids. But to me, it isa school is a locked off area that I dont
go near. It really is.
Doug and I have a paradoxical relationship. As co-workers,
we have polarized philosophies about organization politics.
Frankly, I would not trust him as far as I could throw him when it
comes to organization politics! As friends, we have shared
Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas meals and I am
welcomed as part of the family. I fully trust that my friend Doug
would give me the shirt off of his back if I needed it! This paradox
energizes our friendship. Doug is truly an amazing person. I find
it a shame that his energy, generosity, and intelligence is not
simply ushered out of the education system but (by his own
account), it is locked out. The wisdom he offers appears to be
expendable. What is the education system losing by not
intentionally seeking out and inviting the Douglas Morton's of
the world to be authentically engaged?
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Disappearing in moguls
As people whose main connection to the education system
is that they are taxpayers, Elaine Madison and Douglas Morton
both stated they felt they were not in a position to meaningfully
influence the education system. They both noted how society has
changed. From Elaine's perspective, this has effected schools, for
better or worse. For example, she has seen schools go from
having "open" to "regular" classrooms; from quarter to semester
scheduling formats to, in her opinion, try to please society. For
Douglas, schools have not changed enough to keep up with
society. For example, as the structure of the family has changed,
schools have continued to schedule traditional parent-teacher
conferences.
Both Elaine and Douglas characterized school as 'boring".
Elaine framed this as a lack of viable learning evidenced by kids
not being able to reason and think critically. Douglas referenced
his own experience in K-12 and contrasted that with his
experience as a graduate student. Both touched on how today's
children have become more accustomed to being entertained.
They mentioned caring and enthusiasm as components that seem
to be lacking in education today. Both would like to see schools
become learning-centered: Kids need to be able to know what
57


they believe and why they believe it (Elaine); No participation, no
group work, nothing stimulating, nothing to get us ready for the
world, short of your basic lectures (Douglas). Elaine and Douglas
echo the words of authors on education. Postman (1993) tells us
traditional learning environments rely on "objective" measures
of human performance such as grading and testing and provide
obvious symbols of success and failure. According to Perelman
(1992), traditional education maximizes failure rather than
learning:
Students are forced to compete to achieve as much as they
can within the periods of time allotted for each activity....
This design requires that most students fail or do less well
most of the time so that a minority of them can be labeled
"excellent"... The main functional focus of the system is
not learning, it is screening out (p. 72) [emphasis in
original].
These environments measure what students can recognize. They
do not ask if students can synthesize information, solve problems,
or think independently (Healy, 1990).
The terrain of educational systemic change is not smooth
by any means! Honoring the complex network of people that
contributes to the organization we call "education" means
inviting, including, and hearing divergent voices; voices that are
not always sought out. The voice of the childless taxpayer has
been neglected in literature regarding systemic change. Yet, even
58


those who do not have a direct connection to the education
system have practical wisdom to share. They also have a desire to
create shared significance and participate in shaping the education
system. Just as the less experienced skier can disappear in those
jeep-sized moguls, the voice of the childless taxpayer can easily
disappear when it comes to dialogue about systemic change in
education.
It could be argued that because Douglas is in his mid-
thirties and Elaine in her mid-forties, it has been a while since
they have been in a K-12 classroom and they may have an
outdated view. Tristan Welton and Gillian and Keith Sherwood
have been students more recently in the public K-12 classroom.
They also are high school drop outs and homeless. Their voices
introduce and guide us through the next section of terrain.
59


CHAPTER 4
HOMELESS AND HOPEFUL: VOICES OF
HIGH SCHOOL DROP OUTS
Part 1. Tristan Welton: I Can Always Hope
When I was like in fourth grade, one of my teachers (he
was Spanish; he was Mexican) and it was like almost an all
Spanish school and I don't know, for some reason one of the kids
went and told the teacher that I tried to stick his head in the toilet.
And I never tried that! I never tried to stick his head in the toilet
or nothin'!! I was like, "OK." So the teacher grabbed me, took me
into the bathroom, tried to stick MY head in the toiletthe
TEACHER! And ah, you know, just really ridiculed me and
carried me into the classroom upside down and totally
embarrassed me in front of all the studentsmade me feel you
know, like this bigeverybody laughed at me and talked about
me. And you know, that's not something the teacher is supposed
to do to somebody at all. And you know, that's just the kind of
60


things that I think is what puts the schools down. Theres a lot of
teachers dont take their jobs seriously like their s'posed tolike
thatI took that as a racist. Like he-just because I was white, he
would have done it. But if it was a Mexican kid doing it to a
Mexican kid or a Mexican kid would have done it to me and I
went and told it to the teacher, that wouldn't have happened to
the Mexican kid because he's a Mexicanthats the way I took it.
I don't know if that's the way he [the teacher] felt. Maybe he was
just.... He pretty much discriminated against me the whole year 1
was in there. And my mom ridiculed me: "Why'd you try to stick
that kid's head [in the toilet]?'' "l never tried to stick the kid's
head in the toilet, Mom!" You know"This is a lie, I'm trying to
tell you, please, you know, listen to me, I'm not lying." And it
really bugged me 'cause she'd bring it up. And I'm like, "I'm not
trying to lie; I didn 't do it." So...
But I don't know if that's what put me down to school
where I didn't want to be there or if it was everything that was
going on at home or you know, maybe just a combination. 'Cause
THAT really did bug me a lot after that happened and I still
remember it like it was yesterday, what had happened.
This is Tristans most vivid memory of school. Sometimes
he wonders if it was a significant factor in his dropping out of
school. Now, at 17, Tristan is living in a shelter for the homeless
61


along with his 18-year-old sister and 17-year-old brother-in-law
(also high school drop outs). It has been almost two years since
Tristan attended school. Had he stayed in school, this would be
his Senior year.
Tristan has the appearance of an average teenager. His
blond hair is pulled back in a ponytail; he wears a navy blue t-
shirt, baggy jeans, and tennis shoes. He easily and comfortably
shares stories of his experiences with the education system. The
interview3 is punctuated with lots of laughter. While he could
well be bitter about his situation, I do not detect bitterness in his
tone or attitude. In fact, he is optimistically hopeful about his
future and thoughtfully philosophical about his past.
Tristan, along with his sister Gillian and brother-in-law
Keith (who you will meet later), will serve as one of our guides as
we continue to explore the terrain of educational systemic change.
They will guide us through the terrain of what it is like to be a
homeless high school drop out and homeless young parents.
3 Because of their tenuous situation (living temporarily at a
homeless shelter), it was not feasible to ask Tristan, Gillian, and
Keith to write narratives. The stories presented here come from
recorded one-time interviews, conducted September 1996.
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The reason I'm homeless is domestic violence
Tristan and his older sister Gillian chose to leave an
unbearable home situation. Tristan explains, My dad was real
abusive much of our lives and toe got away, but when we did get
away, we were in a homeless situation. That was about a year ago
and ever since then it's been a consecutive circle: we'll get up,
start getting things up, get an apartment and you know just
something will happen and we drop back down to the same level
we started at and it keeps repeating like that. Gillian later adds,
Not this Easter that just passed but the one before, we left. My dad
tried to kill me.
Tristan provides more detail: The reason I'm homeless is
domestic violence. My dad was on drugs and he was just...he
would be up for like a week at a time and then after hed come
down off the drugs it was like he'd go into a psychotic rage and
he'd just start... he'd keep you up for like two nights straight.
You're not on nothing [drugs] but he is. And its like you can't
tell him to shut up or else he'll go off on you and it's like...so you
just have to sit down listen to HIM.
He had a drug ring in our house so he went to jail for a
while. But he went to jail and he got straight for about six
months. But he went right back to it [drugs] after that. And he
63


went to rehab. And he was so serious. He started going to church
and then right back to it [drugs]. I don't know if it was just the
stress that came back and he just wanted to turn to it again? But,
like he was there for that time that he was off [drugs] and he was a
good person. You know it seemed like he had goals and dreams
and all that too that he wanted to accomplish. But that drug is
what was holding him back from what he wanted to do.
My mom was on drugs also. But we didn't find out until
10, 11, 12when we were smart enough to figure, "They aren't in
the bathroom having sex so they must be in there, you know,
doing something else." And I've been around the drug life all my
life pretty much. I know what a "crack whore is, you know, I've
seen quantities...and it's just, its a pretty sick world. I mean your
dad taught you that kind of stuff.
Now, I thought my whole life was normal until we left and
I realized what it's really s'posed to be like. I thought this was
normal, this was what went on next door and this what went on
upstairs in the next apartment, across the street! It's been this way
and I've realized now that I've got more of an open mind so I
CAN concentrate but then it was like I had so much...I didn 't
know that I had all this inside until we had left but I had so much
inside I couldnt concentrate on, you know, schooling at all.
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Unfortunately, the situation Tristan describes is not an
isolated incident. From 1990 to 1995, the Denver metro area saw a
180 percent increase in the number of homeless children under
the age of 17 (James, 1996). Many of them are from the suburbs
(James, 1996); Tristan and Gillian lived in a suburb of the Denver
metro area before leaving home. Many "street kids" report
leaving unbearable home situations and in Denver, have
expressed the reality of their lives through an art therapy project
called the Urban Peak Homeless Youth Advocacy Murals.
Mural one is called The Dysfunctional Family. In the
center is youth struggling for freedom by trying to break free of a
strangling umbilical cord. Surrounding the center image are
images of different types of abuse reportedly experienced by many
of the youth served by the Urban Peak shelter in Denver. Abuse
depicted includes incest, parents arguing even before the child is
born, crack babies, fetal alcohol syndrome, anorexia /bulimia, child
pornography, and the mask the family dons for the outside world.
The title of mural two is Life on the Streets. A coffin is in
the center. In that coffin is a young woman surrounded by the
pressures and temptations of street life: gangs, violence shown in
the form of knives and guns, prostitution, pornography, gang
rape. The image of the young woman in the coffin is the likeness
of a young woman who stayed at Urban Peak. The story goes she
65


had managed to work things out with her parents to the point
that she was ready to go home for a reconciliation. Leaving the
shelter for home, she was caught in a drive-by shooting and
killed. Also surrounding the coffin are depictions of feeling
locked out of the system; social services as a vicious circle; going
to jail as a result of engaging in "survival" crimes such as selling
drugs, prostitution, or pornography; and a line to a crack house
with no one coming out. There are masks in this mural as well.
This time, they are the masks street kids don to protect their real
identities.
Lost Souls is mural three. Death is the theme, a very real
presence for kids on the streets. This mural depicts a world held
in the grip of evil; a world these kids are falling off of and no one
is there to catch them.
Again, the home life and street life Tristan, Gillian, and
Keith describe is not unusual for homeless youth. For most of
them, relationships with parents have been severed. Seventy
percent of homeless youth report their parents axe unable to
handle their behavior (James, 1995). Sixty one percent report
abuse or neglect by their parents while thirty nine percent report
that their parents abuse drugs, alcohol, or both (James, 1995). Sixty
percent say their parents do not want them (James, 1995). Such
reports are not unique to the Denver metro area. As an example,
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a survey of homeless youth (ages 17-21) in Chicago revealed over
half left their home situations because they were neglected by
their parents; three-quarters reported abuse; almost half reported
alcohol abuse on the part of their parent(s) (The Chicago Coalition
for the Homeless, 1993).
I now turn to juxtaposing the reality of Tristan's life with
the public education system.
I didnt feel like school was a requirement in life
At the time I WAS in school, there was a lot going on at
home. It was just like I started hanging out with bad kids in like
fifth or sixth gradeI started hanging out with you know,
gangsters and taggers and stoners4 and just I was getting stoned
and just going on a wild spree like a young kid, you know, fust
not doing what I was s'posed to be doing with the school and I
just, I didn't want to be there at all so I shoved it to the side. I was
smoking pot and I was just, I was tagging, and I just, I basically just
didn't even want to be there. I was getting kicked out of schools
^"Gangsters" are gang members. "Taggers" are graffiti artists.
"Stoners" get high on marijuana.
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from fighting and ditching so much and my eighth grade year, I
got kicked out of three schools. I was a pretty bad student.
I didn't feel like school was a requirement in life. Ive had
teachers just lay a piece of paper in front of me. I'm like, "I've
never done this before. Can I get a little help?" But the teacher's
over here talking to this person and over here talking to this
person, this person. By the time class is over, you know, the
teachers here but I haven't even got to understand what Im
doing. So when I got to be 16, I just figured "I know enough now,
I can go." 'Cause, you know, I know I felt like I was streetwiseI
was running away from home. I thought that was ALL I needed
to know but, that wasn't true. I could have used a lot more
education.
Tristan quickly learned that without a high school
education, his job options were limited. I was like,"This isn't
working. I don't know nothing! I can't be a scientist..." But he
knows he's really good at free-hand drawing. That's basically
what I want to do pretty much. I mean I've been drawing for a
really long time but lately its been where I'm like I just wanna get
into that SO much and get paid to do something I love to do
anyway, which would be like WOW, you know, hey! I could do
this all day! I'm not gonna be a homeless person forever. I know
that somebody out there wants my art. It's just a matter of finding
68


where that person is and who it is. I'm gonna be somebody that
works in one of these tall buildings over here [downtown]
making money. / can always hope, you know. This is what
motivates Tristan to get his GED and go on to art school.
I aint gonna live this life that Im living now as a homeless
VJZUQtl
When Tristan pictures his future, he says, I hope I have a
nice house; you know, starting to raise a family; have a wife,
maybe a kid; be in, you know, a big corporation where there's
decent money and I can support my family. 'Cause I was raised as
a poor kid and l don't wanna raise my kid that way. I want like to
be able to give my kid...put him in a school where I know it's
gonna be fair, he's gonna get the attention that he needs (he or
sheI don't know why I always say "he"!). But you know make
sure my kidour kidsget all the attention at school that they
need. Cause school nowadays is a necessity. You have to have
schooling to survive pretty much in the world as it is now.
He sees himself as a parent actively involved in the school:
I would talk to the teachers and you know, go to the parent-
teacher conferences and get into...talk to the counselors or go to
the council meetings and stuff. And just get, you know, into the
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system so I can know whats going on with my kid 'cause the bad
experiences I've had with school and the teachers and the way
that they treated me was you know pretty rotten and I don't want
my kid to go through what I've gone through.
Tristan can describe the difference between a good teacher
and a bad one. He observes, There are teachers out there that
don't teach to the fullest extent that they could. Maybe their
college wasn't very good (or whatever they went to) but there's
some teachers that just explained things off the wall to where I
was like, "huh?" You know, where I just couldn't understand.
Theres some teachers where they'd explain it to where I was just
like, "Whoa! I totally understand it!" and there's some teachers
that made it fun at the same time they explained it good. You
know, there's a different combination of teachers and it depends
on how they are as an individual and how they want to teach.
Although Tristan had bad experiences with the education
system, he related a good experience: When I was in art class, I'd
always do better when I was in art class than I would if I was in a
class all by myself Cause I had somebody to guide me, somebody
to show a little, you know, to explain it to mehow to do this
and how to do this and how to do this, you know. That's just...
when I have somebody that's going to help me and I'm going to
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listen and do something that I want to do that I think is fun then,
if you make it fun, of course I'm going to do it!
People aren't too satisfied with the way that it fschooll is ran
Tristan has suggestions for improving the public school
system. Based on his own experiences, he remarks, Maybe the
public schools, there's not enough attention toward the students
'cause there's you know, usually like one teacher to like what, 30
kids in some classrooms? 'Cause public schools are pretty full. I
think they need to up [increase] the staff, give some more
attention to the kids, maybe you know, get some more funding
for books 'cause I know when I was in school there wasn't many
books and when there were books, you know, it's like they were
all trashed and pages were ripped out and you couldn't do your
homework 'cause there's pages ripped out, so it's like UGH! So
that's basically what I think they need there.
He also has some thoughts on alternative schools, which by
offering smaller class sizes, more individualized attention, and
flexible deadlines for program completion, are much better suited
to educate homeless youth than the traditional public school
environment (Youth on the Edge, 1994). Having more
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alternative schools would be really nice if they could... That
would probably make a lot more people want THAT! Yeah...
thatd be REALLY popular! I'm sure! He pauses and shares his
perception of the structure of traditional school:
7 guess they have to learn at such a slow pace to where they
get to know everything that they need to know...that's what I
figure. I don't know if thats true or not but.... A lot of the high
school work, its like some of it you don't even really, seems like
you wouldn't use in real life but...I guess you do. If they made the
schoolwork into kind of a fun way, then all the kids wouldn't
mind doing it at all. It's just you know like "sit in a class," you
know, "listen," you know they [the kids] feel like they're in
church probably! It's like, you get tired of listening to this person
just tell you this and tell you that; write this, do this, do that. So
its just like, theres not enough attention. Sometimes there's not
enough in it for the kids. I'm not saying a bigger lunch hour,
more gym classes or longer art class or no classes. But if they
could like, you know, MAKE IT FUN! Make it to where people
enjoy what they're doing! 'Cause people in high school really
don't realize how much they need that at the time that they are
attending school. Theyre just like, "I want to go home, can I go
home?"that's the way I was!
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Tristan is optimistic that as a parent, he would be able to
influence the public education system. I know there's good...I
know that the education system is good. But it's just a matter of
finding that stride within the person that's attending the school to
do what's right. 'Cause I know the school system's good. This
stands in sharp contrast to the voices of his sister and brother-in-
law.
Part 2. Gillian and Keith Sherwood:
They'd say. "Take your kid out of school thenll
Gillian and Keith Sherwood had been at the shelter about
two weeks at the time of this interview. Gillian is 18; Keith is 17.
Both are high school drop outs. They have two daughters, one
two years old and the other, nine months (however, Keith is not
the biological father). For the last year and a half, Gillian has been
in and out of battered women shelters. Since she and Keith have
been married, their family has been in out of shelters, hotels and
motels. Gillian is now working as a waitress at an I-HOP earning
about $5 per hour; Keith takes care of the children and is trying to
get into a GED program. They fit an alarming growing trend in
homelessness: both Gillian and Keith were raised in the suburbs;
children aged 17 and younger are the most rapidly growing group
73


of the homeless; families continue to be a growing group of the
homeless (Callahan, 1996; James, 1996).
They made me
Gillian and Keith both dropped out of school for different
reasons. Gillian recalls, I got pregnant with my first daughter
when I was at Hensen High and they kicked me out They said
that it was encouraging other teenagers that it was OK to get
pregnant at a young age. There was like a school for pregnant
teenagers and I wasnt able to get in there because they had like a
year, year and a half waiting list. So it was like by the time I
would have gotten in there, it was time for me to graduate, so it
was just really bad. "Oh well, guess / can't go back to school!"
That took care of that! Gillian was in her sophomore year when
she dropped out.
Keith admits he messed up really bad. I was doing zvhat
every teenager didditching school to go have fun. You know, I
was doing what every teenager does. I just started ditching school
to go smoke weed 'cause I thought it was cool doing it. And you
know, it felt good and relieved all the stress and all that. But I
think it put me no where...except for an empty pocket. 1 was
74


supposed to have 16 credits and I only had one quarter of a credit,
so I messed up. They made me [withdraw] cause I had no credits.
I withdrew a week before tenth grade was over. Then I went to
Griffith Tech (a trade school) for about two months after I dropped
out of my high school. And it was better but a lot of gang
violence was starting to go there. Like gang members that l don't
want to be around that. There was fighting every day and you
know, people trying to get other people in trouble. Each day, we'd
get a new crowd of people going there, starting school and there's
more gang and more gang, and you know, people throwing signs
and this and that. And you know, I was, I've been clean from
drugs for about a year and a half now and more drugs were getting
around there. So I dropped out of there...
Now Gillian and Keith attempt to fit pieces of a puzzle
together. They are keenly aware of how different their lives are
from those of most of their peers. Keith observes, I'm 17, I'm
married and two kids17, thats kinda young! Most teenagers are
still bangin' out, partying. I'm 17, I'm married now. All my
friends are looking at methey've still got two or three years to
go before they even settle down. Gillian remorsefully adds, Being
young, I've really had to strive. 'Cause I never had a teenage life.
I never ever did. I really wish I did. I really would want it now
and I can't do it, you know?
75


Both need to finish their GED's. Keith will be the first to
get his GED while Gillian works to support the family. Keith has
been promised a well-paying job through a family friend once he
gets his GED. Gillian hopes to complete dental hygienist school
and get a job after she gets her GED. Gillian estimates it will take
about two years for them to be on their own, independent of any
social service programs. In the meantime, they are preoccupied
with finding and affording a place of their own, finding affordable
child care, finishing their high school educations, and being good
parents to their two young daughters.
They need to make more programs
When asked what the schools could do to better meet the
needs of those in situations like that of Gillian and Keith, Gillian
was quick to respond:
They need to make programs out there to help teenagers
and also middle schoolnow they're starting to drop out. I think
that they need to work with them A LOTa lot more. I mean in
grade school and everything they just pretty much pass them, pass
them, pass them and the same in middle school. They just pass
them even though they aint, you know, really made it through
76


every class, everything else. Even if they have bad grades theyll
still pass them until they get to high school. And then they start
really, you know, buckling down. But what they need to do is
really make better programs and make it more fun. There need to
be programs for kids not only for school, but you know likeOR
EVEN after school programs, like a place to hang out to keep kids
off the streets. They need to make more places for kids to stay off
the streets and get entertained after school...and offer counseling,
you know, also. Because kids are getting abused at home, like I
did. And if 1 had everything that l wish I had now I'd be a much
better kid. I mean, I was all stressed out, from being beaten by my
dad and everything. You know, l mean they need to get places
that WILL help the kid.
When asked about using their school counselors as
resources when they were in school, both Gillian and Keith
laughed and provided the following commentary.
Keith: They're not really counselors.
Gillian: They wont even talk to you. I mean 1 tried
to talk to my counselors all the time. You know, "this
is whats going on at my home,' and all that.
Keith: Those counselors at school are like counselors
to help you get a free lunch one day or... Theyre not
there to help you mentally or nothin.
77


Gillian: And then they're always too busy. They cant
talk to you for that long. And so they're always ^trying
to push you away.
Keith: Or they're only used for like if you get like
detention: you go and sit in their office.
Gillian: And talk to them about what you did wrong!
(laughs).
Clearly, Gillian and Keith have lived what the research tells us.
They face gaping holes: in this instance, there is no coordinated
service system for homeless youth on their own (Chicago
Coalition for the Homeless, 1993; Youth on the Edge, 1994).
Programs and alternative schools that could meet the needs of
this population are limited at best and many times have
bureaucratic policies that make it difficult, if not impossible, for a
homeless youth to access. While many youth want to finish high
school, bureaucratic obstacles and difficulties they experience
while in school contribute to an exceptionally high drop out rate
(Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, 1993; Norum, 1996; Youth
on the Edge, 1994).
78


They just need to make it more fun
In addition to creating more programs, a recurring theme
with Gillian and Keith was making school more fun. Gillian told
of an eighth grade math class she vividly recalls: There's one
teacher I had and this is the ONLY, only time I had fun, was in
math class when 1 was in eighth grade. And she just made it so
much fun: she played games xoith the math and you know... I
mean even though it kinda felt like you were in grade school, it
was FUN! And l made it through that class! And I LOVED it!!! I
looked forward to going to that class every single day! She offers
the following contrast: But then when l was in high school, and
I'm going through high school and I was like three months
pregnant or something, I had this science teacherI couldn't
understand anything he was saying because he wouldn't explain
it well. You know, he would use these BIG words toI was like,
"I don't know, I don't understand what you're saying" and I'd try
to ask him for help and he'd try to explain in these big words that
I didn't know, you know?! And it was like, "well, I flunked that
class" and I pretty much ditched that class because I couldn't
handle it. So they really need to start making it fun. You know,
play games and you know contests and things like that that would
make it fun and make the kids want to go to class, go to school
79


and look forward to it. 'Cause you know, I talk to kids all the
timemy friends and everyone who's dropped out of school
because it's boring; there's nothing better, you know! Why, why
go to school if you're gonna be bored for eight hours?
Both Gillian and Keith acknowledged that parents need to
play an active role in their childrens' education and in fact,
admitted that they were products of parents that did not take an
active interest. Gillian shares, What everybody does is just ignore
the children and you know, they just let them pretty much do
whatever they want. I can say this because look what my parents
did to me: they let me go off and ditch school, they let me stay
home and ditch school. They let me do all kinds of stuff. And
you know why they do that? Because they get to a point where
they cant control their own kids. BUT if there was a better way or
even help to control the kids and not so much so much gang
violence and so on and so forth, then it would be OK. But there's
so much gangs-related stuff and so many gang members out there
and so much around at home, that the kids, they tend to just go in
that direction 'cause they don't have anywhere else to go. And 1
know 'cause I've been there, I've done it already and, you know,
and then they don't go to school and don't try to help themselves,
you know...and I don't know, I feel like you know, nobody cares.
Everyone cares for themselves. Keith echoed with, The reason
80


most people are dropping out is because so they can do their drugs
and be in a gang. They think if theyre in a gang, their family
dont love them, the gang will love them. I thought that I was a
cool gang member but then I started to realize all that was going to
happen was I was going to get shot or land in prison or be
paralyzed for the rest of my life.
Having both been there and done that, what kind of
parents do Gillian and Keith hope to be?
What we gotta do is make a better future for our children
The future is our children and so what we gotta do is make
a better future for our children. And the only way to do that is to
make school bettermore activities, things to do that are
interesting, Gillian declared. What I want to do when my kids
start going to school is I want to go in there and help them and be
like a teacher's aide or whatever so that my kids also get used to
that so I'll be there and I'll help them and help them after school
'cause I want to get involved in their schooling. And I think that
will also help the school 'cause mommy's there to help. And I'm
gonna encourage them and I'm gonnaI'm not gonna do what
my mom did, you know, shove me in my room, shut the door
81


and do your homework; turn off the radio, turn the TV off. I'm
gonna sit down and I'm gonna help them and I'm gonna make it
fun for them so that they do learn. You know, read to them every
night so that they get interested in books, things like that.
Yet, when asked if she thought she'd have any influence as
a parent over what goes on in the school, Gillian laughed and
answered, Oh no! Schools are overpowered. As they explained
"overpowered," Gillian and Keith painted a picture of expendable
wisdom: the intelligence of parents being ushered out of the
education system.
I'd automatically take her out and put her in a different school
When asked what they would do if one of their daughters
came home one day complaining about school, echoing some of
the experiences Gillian and Keith had when they were in school,
Gillian answered, I'd automatically take her out and put her in a
different school. And if that didn't work? Id find another
school. And if that didn't work? Maybe I'd just teach them at
home. Gillian and Keith laughed at the suggestion to talk with
the school staff about the (hypothetical) problems their daughter
was having and finding a better way to meet her needs.
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The schools are overpowered by the School Board.
Everything is their way. Oh no, I know if I was to walk into a
school asking what was going on and say, "I don't like it," they'd
say, *Take your kid out of school then!" was Gillians perspective.
Keith reverberated with: They would tell you, mTake your kid
out and get out of my school/" He added, But maybe if a bunch of
parents all got together in one big place and all had a meeting
about it and maybe all came together on a decision and go to the
School Board and tell them...But School Boards pretty much run
things. Ive talked to the School Board a lot 'cause my parents are
custodianstheyve been custodians for 17 years now and every
time they went to a meeting I used to go with them and I would
always ask questions. The School Board is who makes decisions
over the school. Gillian chimes in, My mom went to the School
Board one time 'cause there was a principal that was really mean
to me. He'd let the kids be mean to me. She went to the School
Board meeting and they said maybe she should take me out of
school. Keith concludes, You know, l hate the School Boardit
sucks.
83


What's going on?
Gillian and Keith had some astute observations about the
education system in general. Keith thought that perhaps, If they
[teachers] would have showed more attentionI think if they
would have showed more attention to kids, start being a lot nicer,
you know like a friend instead of an enemy it would have made a
difference. He may have stayed in school. Gillian remembered
the short time she had spent in choir and dance while in middle
school and how much fun those activities were. If they had more
of that, I would go to school every day and would have no
problems getting my homework done! They both talked about
the reality of street life: You need to know about survival in
order to succeed in this world and you don't get that in school.
Keith noted how the violence in society has manifested itself in
school buildings: I don't know, every school you go to practically
anymore, either they got like a [metal] detector right when you
open in the door. Even if it's a high tech school, I mean, like
Southview, the richest school of allnice clothes, people are
always wearing dresses, you know, and they still got 'em [metal
detectors], you know? And what's going on?
You may be tempted, as I was, to discount parts of Tristan,
Gillian, and Keith's commentary on the education system. After
84


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