There is a fable attributed to George Reavis, when he was the Assistant Superintendent of Cincinnati Public Schools back in the 1940s. Here’s that fable, known as Animal School, with a modern day twist.
Once upon a time, all the animals in the forest got together to solve the problems of their world for the greater common good. After much back and forth they all agreed that the solution lay in every one of them getting a good education. Moreover, they concluded, the education they received must get each and every one of them “forest ready.”
To get every animal “forest ready,” they decided to create a uniform curriculum that everyone must master. Moreover, they agreed on periodic testing to ensure everyone had achieved proficiency in every subject. There was running, climbing, swimming, and flying, and of course for the arts they had chorus and orchestra.
Well, things began to go awry from the very beginning. The climbing classes were filled with squirrels and the ducks protested that they weren’t well represented in the class. “Say, what?” said the squirrels, pointing out that the swimming class looked like a flotilla of ducks.
Then there was the problem of the ducks being excellent swimmers, so much so they could give pointers to the teachers. But, they weren’t making the grade in the running and flying classes. Their waddling made them poor runners and the teacher decided that they needed to scale back on their swimming and diving to improve their running and flying.
The constant running and flying practice took its toll. The ducks webbed feet began to ulcerate and the web tore making swimming almost impossible. But the teachers agreed that it was acceptable for the ducks to be average in swimming because they were also barely making the grade in running and flying.
The rabbits, who were champion runners were drowning in the swimming class—literally. That wasn’t good for their mental health either, and the school nurse had his hands full doling out medicines to them. That cost money and the school convinced the forest council to increase real estate taxes on all the animals to pay for the increased cost of schooling.
The mice, who were the bean counters of the school system, correlated the best flying with what the ospreys could do, the best climbing with what the squirrels could do, the best swimming with what the ducks could do, etc. They came up with the Seven Keys for Forest Readiness, which they said was based on research.
The increase in real estate taxes made it hard for the teachers to afford housing in the forest, and they demanded higher salaries. The forest PTAs testified that the high value of housing was directly related to the quality of the school system and urged the county to approve a salary increase. Of course, the county approved the salary increase and jacked up the real estate taxes.
The ospreys were another problem for the administrators. Instead of climbing up the tree, as they were instructed to do, they simply flew to the tree tops. They also wanted a gifted and talented program for the high flyers.
The groundhogs found the whole public school concept and the spiraling taxes too much to swallow. They just burrowed deeper underground and created their own charter school.
The turkeys were another bag of goods altogether. They decided to start a free range turkey movement by encouraging their little ones to walk around the forest unaccompanied. Of course that led to a public confrontation with the animal protection services folks. BAPS (Basic Animal Protection Services) put into place their emergency action plan BOPS (Basic Obstructionist Prevention System), which had been formulated to prevent unconventional parenting.
The Superintendent of the Forest School System, a bear, decided to hold the first Annual State of the Forest Schools Address and the sparrows went around the forest tweeting the news. The bear could barely (pun intended) contain himself when he announced everyone in the school system was performing average in every sphere.
Meanwhile, the Forest Council put out a report noting that there were signs of middle class flight from the forest. Furthermore, they noted that neighboring jurisdictions where each animal was allowed to cultivate its strengths were prospering. They were producing the best high flyers, the outstanding tree climbers, not to mention the best swimmers. Working together and leveraging their strengths, they had built a strong and vibrant community. Creativity and innovation was on the rise as each animal strove to improve on its own strengths.
What about being “forest ready” you ask? The animals discovered that not everyone needs to be “forest ready” to be successful.