Chris Lehmann, Zac Chase, and the Game of Inches

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

The change we seek in education too often seems like a game of inches.

If we truly believe in two sides of education reform (I don’t, but let’s go with that for now), one side seems to get most of the big players, complex plays, the largest stadiums, and folks to fix the rules for them. The other side relies mainly on running plays and, when united, can get a few points here and there. The common person (that’s us) is that latter team. Sadly, every inch towards progress seems to detonate another mass offensive against us. Want to close the funding gap between poor and rich districts? Create private schools so rich folks can pay for only rich kids to go and keep the funding gap disparate. Want to desegregate schools? Undercut funding for those programs and create false narratives through the media. Want to opt out of over-standardized testing? Pretend to care and launch bills that assure only the more wealthy districts can opt out of those tests.

Divide. Conquer. Win-win-win, except only the winning team keeps winning.

Which reminds me. Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase, friends to the program, came out with a book recently that I’ve endorsed entitled Building School 2.0: How to Create the Schools We Need. You should know how long this stew took to brew, and you should also know how much I admire their thinking, even when we disagree. And we disagree like 2% of the time. Zac is more a bow tie whereas I’m the long tie, and Chris roots for Philly teams whereas I’m from New York.

Otherwise, this book nails it. 95 edu-theses, and each of them worth understanding as school leaders, builders, and visionaries.

I’d pay close attention to the chapters on educational colonialism (2), disrupting disruption (12), and being deliberately anti-racist (36). More importantly, I’d pay attention to the subtext. The idea that we don’t have “all” the solutions often suggests that only the solutions proffered by a specific (wealthy) set of folks is worth mentioning. All the while, people who have done school as educators want solutions that both embrace democracy and banish the theory and practice dichotomy. Chris and Zac put out a book that doesn’t just come from their experience building Science Leadership Academy with their bare hands (hyperbolic, but you hear me), but also from conversations with folks across the country and the world on what works best in schools. They’ve got skin in this game like very few educators do.

This game we call K-12 don’t have to move in inches. We can move in leaps and bounds. Just not in the ways we have in the last 15 years, but a path that’s truly forward. If we know anything about Chris and Zac’s work, it’s that we can both be hopeful and realistic at the same time. Let’s listen.