An Education Policy Parable

Tortoise was an admired member of the community.

A strong, beautifully polished, and ornate shell provided protection from the elements and those who would do harm. Powerfully muscled legs — thick as tree trunks — allowed Tortoise to toil tirelessly and overcome obstacles. Beneath the shell beat an empathetic heart. All of the animals were aware of Tortoise’s sharp mind, determined work ethic, and commitment to the community.

Tortoise was the provider of sticks. Spending each day gathering twigs, branches, and small limbs and delivering them to the other animals to use as they saw fit. It was challenging work, but Tortoise found it fulfilling. In addition, the animal community was appreciative of Tortoise’s efforts. In order to support the work, they provided Tortoise with a small blue wagon for hauling the daily collection.

Tortoise was happy.

The animals were happy.

The community was successful.

One day, the animals of the community noticed that there were fewer flowers and seeds in their neighborhood than had been present just a few months earlier.

“This may become a problem,” the animals worried. “Without flowers and seeds we may become hungry, or perhaps even starve to death. Whatever shall we do?”

“I have an idea,” said Squirrel. “Tortoise should be able to find flowers and seeds while collecting sticks. This will kill two birds with one stone. No offense Raven.”

Rabbit chimed in, “A great idea, who better to do the work than Tortoise? But perhaps we should sell two of the wheels off of Tortoise’s wagon and save the funds in case sufficient food is unable to be found.”

The animals agreed that this would be wise, so they shared their plan with Tortoise.

“I agree to this proposal,” Tortoise responded, “But if I am to collect flowers and seeds and sticks, there may come a time when I will need more tools and more help.”

“Yes. Yes. Of course!” all of the animals agreed.

Tortoise innovatively fashioned the wagon (now with missing wheels) into a two-wheeled cart and got to work — gathering sticks, and seeds, and flowers. The additional work was naturally more challenging and the missing wagon wheels added another layer of difficulty, but as expected Tortoise made slow and steady progress and continued to support the community.

Several months passed.

“I notice that it has not rained in some time,” said Raven. “If we run out of water, we may die of thirst. Whatever shall we do?”

“Well, Tortoise is already gathering seeds and sticks and flowers, perhaps we should ask for water as well,” suggested Rabbit.

“Yes. Yes. It is just one more thing and it seems like a reasonable request,” the animals agreed.

“But, I have grown tired of the seeds and flowers that Tortoise collects, and what if the water that is collected is not to our liking?” pondered Lizard. “Should we not sell the rest of the wagon and save the funds to buy food we like and water that tastes better — so that we at least have a choice?”

The animals of the community agreed that this was an acceptable plan of action and they presented their ideas to Tortoise.

“Hmm,” Tortoise sighed, his shell looking a bit less polished, “I suppose it is just one more thing. But, I am beginning to worry that at some point I will need more help if I am to gather more items without the benefit of a wagon, or cart.”

“Of course. Of course,” replied Raven. “We will cross that bridge when we come to it.”

The animals nodded in agreement, and Tortoise plodded off to begin the day’s work.

Several months passed.

“I notice that Tortoise is getting slower and slower with the deliveries,” complained Mouse. “In fact, there are times when the seeds, flowers, and sticks I receive are bruised or broken. Is it too much to ask that Tortoise take more care in gathering and transporting our materials?”

“That is reasonable,” agreed Lizard. “In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if Tortoise is taking advantage of our patience. Perhaps there is a lack of understanding about how the work impacts our community. I think we should rate Tortoise’s work and ask for an improvement plan.”

“Do you think it is possible that Tortoise needs more help? Maybe we should use some of our rainy day fund savings and buy another wagon,” suggested Owl.

Raven scoffed. “Should we reward laziness and inept work? I think not! If Tortoise wants our assistance or could use a wagon, I think we need to see better results. If that doesn’t happen, perhaps we need to find a replacement for Tortoise. I’m sure there are many who could do the work.”

The other animals nodded in agreement and they went in search of Tortoise to deliver their verdict. Improve and receive help. Fail and be replaced.

But, Tortoise was nowhere to be found. After several hours of searching, the animals noticed a large pile of sticks and seeds and flowers and water containers. Upon closer inspection, Mouse exclaimed, “Tortoise is here! Buried under the weight of the seeds and flowers and water and sticks.”

“Tortoise doesn’t look so good,” said Lizard, stating the obvious.

The animals gathered closer to observe. Tortoise’s shell seemed thin and dull. The once-powerful legs appeared fragile, like the sticks on Tortoise’s back. The heartbeat was shallow and seemed to lack its usual empathetic beat. This was not the Tortoise of months past. This Tortoise was weak, beaten down, worn out, and bedraggled.

“Perhaps we were asking too much,” suggested Squirrel.

“Perhaps we should not have taken the wagon,” said Rabbit.

“Perhaps we didn’t understand the job,” said Raven.

“Perhaps we should have helped,” said Mouse.

“It is all true,” said Owl. “We asked too much. We should not have taken the wagon. We didn’t understand. We gave too little. We should have helped.”

All of the animals nodded in agreement.

Yes. We should have helped.

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