What’s Your Walk Up Song

Thanks to Jonathon Wennstrom for suggesting this topic a while back!

Baseball season, and therefore summer, are almost upon us. For some of us, things like the equinox don’t determine the seasons, baseball does. “If you build it they will come” was written about a ballfield, not a school. But that is a story for another day.

A ballplayers walk up song, whether he is walking up to the plate or in from the bullpen, can tell a lot about the player. It can pump up and motivate the player and the fans, and in some cases, intimidate the opponents. In nearly every case, it is an extension of the player’s personality. It fires up the athlete to do his/her job.

As an undergraduate music major, and still an occasional trumpet player, there has always been a song in my heart. As an educational innovator, a couple have always been there, and will always be.

I crossed my personal Rubicon in a class leading toward my Superintendent of Schools endorsement in the summer of 1993. Excerpted from a reaction paper that term, “where I have found myself professionally is very much at odds with the general system of public education in which I work…there are inherent constraints within the system which make it difficult to effect significant, positive change.”

As we worked our magic, my district understood that we had to operate as a business. Our customers were just like every other business, they were the people who walked through the doors every day. We had a special name for them – students. As for product, we had dreams for sale. Their dreams, not ours. We wanted to empower our students to become the architects of their futures rather than the victims of fate.

My first walk up song was from the Man of LaMancha-“The Impossible Dream.” We used a rainbow to personify the dream, and we followed every rainbow until we found our dream.

The song that still plays today is “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. The tune was written to protest a curfew imposed on the Sunset Strip in 1966. It evolved into an anthem protesting the war in Viet Nam. I adopted it as we worked to see our schools through the eyes of our customers, adapting our practices to what the world might be like when they became our age, instead of what it was like when we were their age.

From the lyrics, and my thoughts:

“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” Things are changing in the world, and we must change with them.

“There’s a man with a gun over there, telling me I got to beware.” The guardians and gatekeepers of the status quo are waiting to throw water on our passion fires with their rules, regulations, and resistance to change.

“I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down.” Let’s all take a step back to see what is happening, and why we are here.

“There’s battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right, if everybody’s wrong.” We are choosing a path, and we aren’t sure if we have chosen the correct one.

“Young people speaking their minds. Getting so much resistance from the behind.” Our customers want, and need something different,and like all adolescents, patience is not a virtue. It isn’t happening fast enough for them, they do not feel their voices are being heard.

“What a field day for the heat. A thousand people in the street. Singing songs and carrying signs, mostly say hurray for our side.” Listen to the policy debates in our local Board of Education meetings, State Legislatures and State Departments of Education, Congress, and the good people in the Lyndon Johnson building in Washington, DC. Lots of words, not much action.

“Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep. It starts when you’re always afraid. You step out of line, the Man come and take you away.” A key function of any bureaucracy is to protect itself, and the first response to a significant change is to resist. Particularly when the gatekeepers do not fully understand either the implications or long-term consequences of the change.

Lessons learned from helping write legislation that challenged the status quo, and changed it:

  • There are 2 types of people, those who fear the future, and those who embrace it.
  • A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships were built for.
  • First, break all the rules.
  • If it ain’t broke, break it.
  • Sacred Cows make the best burgers
  • Expect the unexpected or you won’t find it.
  • From Marjory Stoneman Douglas – “Be a nuisance where it counts; Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics – but never give up.”
  • Jim Valvano – “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”

That’s my walk up song, for this and every season. Let your music ring!

And so it goes…


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