Tuesday, April 11, 2023

A SCHOOL REFORM PARABLE: Horace and the Kingdom of the Frogs

By Gary K. Clabaugh, Professor Emeritus, La Salle University

Rewritten 4/11/23

In olden times, when hope still mattered, a frog named Horace treasured tadpols. When they thrived, Horace was very, very happy. If they failed to thrive, Horace was very, very sad

Horace lived in the Kingdom of the Frogs where Bullfrogs reigned supreme. These puffed up monsters were few in numbers, but took up the best end of the pond. There they ate a great deal more than they needed, wasted almost everything, croaked so loudly no one else could be heard, and secretly conducted their most important business hidden deep in bottom muck.

To thrive, tadpoles need special nurturing. Ordinary tadpoles had to be sent to community nurturaries for that purpose. Ordinary frogs also had to pay taxes to the Bullfrogs for nurturary upkeep. The Bullfrogs, for their part, cared little about community nurturaries. (Although they did impose a host of standardized tests and measurements on them that then were published in The Pond Bulletin.) They placed their own tadpoles in expensive, private nurturaries. Here they received special care and were exempted from every test and measurement imposed on the ordinary tadpoles. (There were no scores to publish for them.)

Community nurturaries had always been neglected in the Kingdom. But one day, for some unknown reason, the King of the Bullfrogs began harrumphing loudly that community nurturaries were doing an awful job. He then appointed a Blue Ribbon Bullfrog panel to study the "problem." (Of course, ordinary frogs had no voice on the panel.) 

After much harrumphing and croaking the Blue Ribbon Bull Frog panel proclaimed, "If another kingdom were responsible for the awful performance of our community nurturaries it would be a cause for war." (Bullfrogs frequently found causes for wars — though they never fought in them.) 

The panel ignored the fact that it was the Bullfrogs that ultimately determined the condition of community nurturaries. They regularly underfunded them and sub-adequate budgets created sub-adequate conditions. Moreover, community nurturary conditions simply reflected ordinary frog living conditions in the ever-growing stagnant end of the pond. (And since the Bullfrogs controlled the fresh water flow, they also determined how much of the pond was stagnant.)

Anyway, as Horace came of age he thought, and thought (In the way that only frogs can think.) about what to do with his life. "I know!" he finally exclaimed, "I'll nurture tadpoles."
Certification was necessary to become a tadpole nurturer. But that process was very undemanding because of the ongoing need for inexpensive, compliant nurturers. Moreover, at Amphibian University, which had a Bullfrog board of trustees, the weak-kneed tadpole-nurturing program was viewed as little more than a source of university income.

When it turned out that the undemanding certification standards still were too demanding for the casually committed, Bullfrogs also set up an alternative route to certification. "Nurture for the Kingdom," it was called. When this Bullfrog supported endeavor was created, a Bullfrog official solemnly croaked, "Alternative certification opens tadpole nurturing to bright young frogs who have no time for falderal." Horace wondered, as best a frog can wonder, "Since tadpoles are so very important for our frog future, why do the Bullfrogs make it easier and easier to become a nurturer?" 

Meanwhile, the Bullfrogs continued to stoke dissatisfaction with community nurturaries. They croaked that these nurturaries would be much better if Bullfrog controlled firms were to take over their management at public expense. (Bullfrogs are very enthusiastic about profit making — especially when it’s at public expense. )

Meanwhile, Horace too easily achieved certification at Amphibian U. and signed up for a job as a community nurturer. This nurturary was in the most stagnant part of the pond. Horace was delighted to nurture young tadpoles. But he soon discovered that while he and his fellow nurturers were held accountable, they had no say about how the nurturary was run, or what nurturing materials were available. Worse still, nourishment and oxygen were in scant supply at that end of the pond. And those scarcities made the tadpoles much harder to nurture. Sometimes the half-suffocated tadpoles even turned on one another, or on a frog nurturer.

Some blamed Bullfrog rules and inadequate funding for this. Others blamed the ordinary rfog administrator who had sold out in order to feel more like a Bullfrog. Still others thought community nurturary board member’s lack of knowledge was at fault. (Board members weren’t required to know anything about tadpoles or teaching.) In fact ignorance of tadpoles and teaching was common at all levels of community tadpole nurturary management. 

Even the Bullfrog who was Secretary of Tadpole Nurturance possessed no knowledge of this whatsoever. But he was well connected in the pond and very skilled at croaky solemnity. Ignoring the many environmental factors limiting tadpole growth, for instance, he pompously advised tadpole nurturers that if they just had "higher expectations" their tadpoles would thrive.

About this time the Frog King reemerged from the muck on the bottom of the pond, swam to the surface, stuck his thick Bullfrog head out of the water, and croaked out a royal decree. "Henceforth," he thrummed, "every tadpole succeeds!" And with that, the King dove back down into the muck. (Little, if any, additional money for tadpole nurturance accompanied the King’s declaration)

The King also decreed that all community tadpole nurturaries must regularly measure and report tadpole growth. The results were to be proclaimed throughout the kingdom and community tadpole nurturaries were held publicly accountable." (There was not even a mention of measuring tadpole growth in the private nurturaries that served the Bullfrog's offspring.)

The Bullfrogs assured ordinary frogs with tadpoles that they had the right to transfer them to another charter nurturary if theirs got low scores. But pond geography made such transfers nearly impossible. Of course that didn’t stop the Bullfrogs from boasting about the policy.

Horace and his fellow nurturers wondered how they could be held responsible for low test scores if the tadpoles were under their care only six and a half hours a day, five days a week, 180 days of the year. The rest of the time (and that was a great deal of time indeed), tadpoles were "cared for" at home by their frog mothers and fathers — and it was often hard to even find the fathers. 

Frog families weren't in very good shape to begin with. In fact, by the time frog parents brought their tadpoles to the nurturary, their all-important early growth was already over and the damage inflicted at home was more or less permanent. That is why Horace often got tadpoles with needs that were well beyond his simple skills. He struggled bravely (or at least as bravely as a frog can struggle), But try as he might Horace could not get the environmentally stunted tadpoles to meet the Bullfrog's puffed up standards. He even tried expecting more, as the Bullfrogs advised, but that just made things worse. “I guess I’m not very good at expecting,” Horace said to himself. 

About this time a Bullfrog-owned and operated charter corporation took over the community nurturary where Horace worked. The bottom line was no longer tadpole nurturing, but profit making. Cosmetic changes were introduced, but tadpole growth did not improve. In fact, fewer tadpoles did well than before. But the Bullfrogs were more content.

With the coming of summer there was a sad new weariness in Horace's bulgy eyes. He still loved tadpoles. Only now he kept dwelling on their frequent failure to thrive. He spent most of the summer thinking about his future. Should he keep nurturing? 

In the end his love of tadpoles won out. Hoping things would improve, Horace returned to his job in the nurturary. But things there were actually worse. Thanks to Bullfrog for-profit management, love of tadpoles was almost entirely absent. Profit was what mattered.

Because the Bullfrog-set pond standards were impossibly difficult for damaged tadpoles, some of Horace's fellow frog nurturers started cheating on the Bull Frog imposed tests. Horace would have none of that. He played by the rules and continued to do his best. "Worthwhile things are seldom easy," he would say to himself. But reality slowly smothered what was left of Horace's hope. Finally, after a particularly discouraging day (and frogs aren’t easily discouraged), Horace just hopped sadly away, never to be seen again.

Some say he hopped to another pond where there were no Bullfrogs. Others say Bullfrogs dominate every pond in the world and that Horace died of a broken heart. In any case, he is gone — forever.


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