Reflections on Klein’s ‘Lessons of Hope’: Series (?) Prelude

Like just about everyone in education, I recently finished reading former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein’s Lessons of Hope: How to Fix Our Schools. Though primarily a memoir of Mr. Klein’s experiences as NYC chancellor, the book offers so many thoughtful realizations, cautions, and recommendations that its scope can’t help but reach far past the huge network of schools Klein (via the mayoral control of Mayor Bloomberg) oversaw between 2002 and 2011.

Ultimately (and because Klein so clearly and practically explains his executive-administrative obstacles, perceptions, and justifications), Lessons of Hope may well be the NCLB era’s most important ‘state-of-our-enterprise’ work. For though it’s written from a perch of influence very few in education will ever reach, anyone in the education enterprise should be able to see themselves in its pages. No matter what kind of role you serve within education and no matter how frustrated you may be over the past decade-plus (or with whom or for what reasons), Klein’s descriptions of his challenges and subsequent actions should make at least a little something ring inside you. They absolutely rang inside me, mainly because they so closely resembled (mostly frustrating) realities I’ve encountered, both working as a teacher and working with teachers in support and/or administrative capacities.

And though I can’t say I’m in line with all of Mr. Klein’s positions (I’m not as big a believer in Teach For America’s promise, for example, or in technology-dependent instruction, at least in current contexts), I agreed with and was encouraged by his ideas a healthy majority of the time as I read. (If you’ve read my book and Lessons of Hope, I hope you, too, noticed some of these ideological intersections. NOTE TO MR. KLEIN, TO WHOM I’VE SENT MY BOOK: if you noticed these intersections as well and ever want to chat, feel free to be in touch. I’d be honored.)

Most of all, I was encouraged to see someone from such an influential space in our enterprise holding some of the ideas he does, especially on matters of curriculum, student matriculation, and teacher professionalism.  As I’ve found this so rarely in my education career — to the point, frankly, that I’ve mostly given up on that I’ll ever see such ideas pushed by my leaders — I am seeing Lessons of Hope as a reason to hope. More specifically: Mr. Klein’s book gives me hope that, as more top-level educational leaders pick the book up, Klein’s perspectives, riding on their raft of positive results, will shape the practices and priorities those leaders choose to emphasize in their own districts and schools.

Having said all of the above, I plan to use the next few blog entries (3-4, that is, appearing once or so a week) here at A Total Ed Case to reflect on/respond to ideas Mr. Klein so cogently rose in Lessons of Hope and that hit definite cords in me. My ultimate hope is to keep the dialogue Mr. Klein so thoughtfully began moving, even if in small circles. More soon!

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