The Blueberry Story

Someone forwarded this to me in an email and I thought it was both entertaining and relevant to the many things going on with NY schools at the moment. Enjoy!

THE BLUEBERRY STORY : A Businessman Learns a Lesson
by Jamie Robert Vollmer

“If I ran my business the way you people operate your schools, I wouldn’t be in business very long!” I stood before an auditorium filled with outraged teachers who were becoming angrier by the minute. My speech had entirely consumed their precious 90 minutes of in-service. Their initial icy glares had turned to restless agitation. You could cut the hostility with a knife.

I represented a group of business people dedicated to improving public schools. I was an executive at an ice cream company that became famous in the middle 1980s when People Magazine chose our blueberry as the “Best Ice Cream in America.”

I was convinced of two things. First, public schools needed to change; they were archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms designed for the industrial age and out of step with the needs of our emerging “knowledge society.” Second, educators were a major part of the problem: they resisted change, hunkered down in their feathered nests, protected by tenure and shielded by a bureaucratic monopoly.

They needed to look to business. We knew how to produce quality. Zero defects! TQM! Continuous improvement! In retrospect, the speech was perfectly balanced — equal parts ignorance and arrogance.

As soon as I finished, a woman’s hand shot up. She appeared polite, pleasant — she was, in fact, a razor-edged, veteran, high school English teacher who had been waiting to unload.

She began quietly, “We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream.” I smugly replied, “Best ice cream in America, Ma’am.”

“How nice,” she said. “Is it rich and smooth?”

“Sixteen percent butterfat,” I crowed.

“Premium ingredients?” she inquired.

“Super-premium! Nothing but triple A.” I was on a roll. I never saw the next line coming.

“Mr. Vollmer,” she said, leaning forward with a wicked eyebrow raised to the sky, “when you are standing on your receiving dock and you see an inferior shipment of blueberries arrive, what do you do?”

In the silence of that room, I could hear the trap snap. I was dead meat, but I wasn’t going to lie. “I send them back.”

“That’s right!” she barked, “and we can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them all: GT, ADHD, ADD, SLD, EI, MMR, OHI, TBI, DD, Autistic, junior rheumatoid arthritis, English as their second language, etc. We take them all! Everyone!

“And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”

In an explosion, all 290 teachers, principals, bus drivers, aides, custodians and secretaries jumped to their feet and yelled, “Yeah! Blueberries! Blueberries!”

And so began my long transformation. Since then, I have visited hundreds of schools. I have learned that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.

None of this negates the need for change. We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a postindustrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission and active support of the surrounding community.

For the most important thing I have learned is that schools reflect the attitudes, beliefs and health of the communities they serve, and therefore, to improve public education means more than changing our schools, it means changing America.

The Possibilities Are Endless…

This week’s discussion in IST613 (Survey of Telecommunication and Information Policy) was a pretty standard discussion concerning government regulation of information markets, how the information market has changed the economy, and a general follow-up of the class readings.

That is, except for this one question:
You have been placed in charge of ICT implementation for the brand new Mars space colony. There are a lot of people, but unfortunately your budget, infrastructure, and knowledge capital are extremely limited since all the colonists came from debtors prisons back on Earth. What sort of ICTs are of immediate and practical economic use to your constituents? Give some examples of old tech, new tech, and fictional tech you want to have on hand. Which ones do you throw out as space junk? Oh–and defend your decisions to the colony members, who wanted a big-screen plasma TV.

I couldn’t not let the creative writer in me out for this one. I didn’t necessarily follow all of the rules but I would love for this to be a reality someday:

Okay, since I’ve answered two questions seriously, I’m going to take a much more fun approach to this one.

Before I begin, I’m making the following assumptions:

1. A president in the future has rejuvenated the NASA Space Program so that we are not reliant on 1990’s technology to neither travel through space nor to communicate.

2. NASA scientists have been able to come up with new, exciting, and more efficient ways of doing nearly everything, let alone breathe in a new atmosphere.

3. We have finally been able to create those “meal pills” from 1960’s television that gives us all of our nutritional needs and makes us feel satisfactorily full upon ingesting and provide us with the correct amount of water to prevent thirst, so all of our basic physical needs are met. We have a supply that will last 10 years and the formula to create more.

4. We all get to wear those awesome, uniform, silver space suits with matching boots.

5. We have evolved some and use more of our brain than we currently do.

6. The phone/computer/camera hybrid that we have been moving towards for the past few years has taken off completely and we all have our own personal devices that are all-inclusive.

These personal devices will be the key to all major communication and information retrieval. Powered by electricity from brain waves, this device will fit comfortably in your ear (like one of those spy ear pieces that you can’t see from the outside) and will be removable for sleeping (which I will further explain below).

All devices will be able to connect to one another, using brain wave frequencies, for basic communication. If you simply think the phrase “Connect to Mom,” the device will send a signal to that of your mother’s and send her brain a mellow tone, indicating an “incoming call,” followed by a visual representation of your face, however she prefers to remember you.

These devices will not rely on satellites and can function properly, regardless of the distance between people. Connecting brain waves will be the most efficient way to communicate person-to-person.

To get information, as one would on the internet today, you would simply think another command, “Find information on topic: Space Suit Repair” and your device will connect to a service provider that runs on artificial brain waves and acts as a super computer (it’s amazing how far technology has come) to perform searches. The information will be transmitted to your brain as though you are “seeing” it in a memory. You can then proceed as you would normally do with any internet search engine, selecting to try different words, adding other key phrases, or selecting a link.

Everything we normally do throughout our day to communicate or gather information will be done in our heads. Even the storage of pictures in photo albums will be accessible with the help of this device and our memories. Since the device will essentially turn our own brains into computes, we can even organize information in folders and directories.

We would remove these when we sleep so that our brains do not accidentally send signals to the devices, literally making our worst dreams a reality.

Now, given our limited budget and knowledge capital, we can expend all financial resources on shelter.