The Hedgehog or the Fox

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The Hedgehog or the Fox Powered By Docstoc
					tending to business

      By Richard Barbieri

      Outfoxing the Hedgehog

                                                   n his recent book, Seven Secrets of the Savvy School Leader, psychologist Rob
                                                   Evans advises that “savvy school leaders don’t seek serial saviors” by repeat-
                                                   edly embracing the latest management fad. Quite a number of schools,
                                                   though, appear to be grasping at one of the most popular pieces of wizardry
                                                   in current management thinking.
                                                Jim Collins’s Good to Great has attained near-scriptural status in organiza-
                                            tions, including nonprofits, which Collins says constitute a third of his readers.
                                            I have given the book, and its supplement on the Social Sectors, to administrative
                                            teams and have seen it resonate in many ways.
                                                But one Collins idea — the famous “Hedgehog Concept” — is dangerous for
                                            schools because it distorts the nature of education. As Collins explains it, a Hedge-
                                            hog Concept is “a simple, crystalline concept that flows from a deep understand-
                                            ing about the intersection of the following three circles”:

                                            1. What you can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what you cannot
                                            be the best in the world at)....

                                            2. What drives your economic engine....

                                            3. What you are deeply passionate about.

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tending to business

                                                     organising principle in terms of which      marized as faith, intellectual values,
          To have a Hedgehog Concept, you            alone all that they are and say has         social awareness, community, and
      must, of course, be a hedgehog. As             significance — and, on the other side,      personal growth.
      Collins defines that creature, “Hedge-         those who pursue many ends, often               True, the hedgehog/fox dichotomy
      hogs see what is essential, and ignore         unrelated and even contradictory,           can cut both ways. Is a school that fol-
      the rest.” More precisely, “It doesn’t         connected, if at all, only in some de       lows one educational guru — Maria
      matter how complex the world, a                facto way, for some psychological           Montessori, Rudolph Steiner, or E.D.
      hedgehog reduces all challenges and            or physiological cause, related to no       Hirsch — a hedgehog school? I would
      dilemmas to simple — indeed almost             moral or aesthetic principle. These last    suggest that each of these school’s
      simplistic — hedgehog ideas. For               lead lives, perform acts, and entertain     adherents would speak for the breadth
      a hedgehog, anything that does not             ideas that are centrifugal rather than      of their originators’ visions, while crit-
      somehow relate to the hedgehog idea            centripetal; their thought is scattered     ics would point to narrowing effects
      holds no relevance.”                           or diffused, moving on many levels,         of their curricula; on that score alone
          Collins is even more emphatic in           seizing upon the essence of a vast vari-    we could conclude that most schools
      his Social Sectors pamphlet, where he          ety of experiences and objects for what     desire to be seen as foxes rather than
      asserts, “The pivot point in Good to           they are in themselves, without, con-       hedgehogs. Is a school that sticks
      Great is the Hedgehog Concept.”                sciously or unconsciously, seeking to fit   to a classical curriculum — English
          In pursuit of greatness, or some-          them into, or exclude them from, any        (including grammar), European and
      times simply for survival, organiza-           one unchanging, all-embracing, some-        American history, math, science, and
      tions, including schools, are now seek-        times self-contradictory and incom-         perhaps Latin and/or French — more
      ing their HC, as we’ll call it for short.      plete, at times fanatical, unitary inner    of a hedgehog than a progressive
      Many independent schools are looking           vision. The first kind of intellectual      school with block scheduling, thematic
      for that one thing in which they can           and artistic personality belongs to the     curricula built around a theme or a
      excel, and around which they can build         hedgehogs, the second to the foxes.         culture, and an intensive focus on criti-
      admissions and marketing, curricu-                                                         cal thinking and real-life learning? The
      lum and programming, strategic plan-           Should schools follow the hedge-            former is likely to wear the crest of the
      ning and fund-raising.                      hog or the fox? This question needs to         hedgehog proudly, the latter to reject it
          But in proposing the HC, Collins        be answered in three areas: our mis-           outright.
      took half of a classic duality, exalting    sion and philosophy, our marketing,                In one sense, independent schools
      it while debasing its counterpart. The      and our main task of educating young           have always been hedgehogs, select-
      hedgehog, in an aphorism more than          people.                                        ing a particular type of student and
      2,700 years old, is the opposite of the                                                    offering a specific form of education.
      fox: “The fox knows many things, but        It All Begins with Mission                     Few independent schools, aside from
      the hedgehog knows one big thing.”          There are schools whose raison d’etre          the last few “town academies” of the
          Collins is not, to my knowledge,        might be called a hedgehog mission.            Northeast, accept students of all abili-
      a devotee of ancient Greek poetry.          A religious school, for example, which         ties from a geographic area and offer
      Like almost everyone in the past half-      views its primary purpose as saving            the range of schooling needed to
      century, he likely learned the metaphor     the souls of its students by teaching its      support those students. Charter and
      from historian of philosophy Isaiah         faith, might qualify, as might a special-      magnet schools now imitate and even
      Berlin’s classic “The Hedgehog and          needs school that devotes itself solely to     exceed independent schools in nar-
      the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy’s View         ameliorating or compensating for the           rowing their focus, offering schools
      of History.” Berlin, however, did not       emotional or intellectual disability of        for specific professions, or for regional
      choose one side of the dichotomy, but       its students. In the former case, many         or cultural studies. On the other hand,
      described it as a fundamental division:     would maintain that such schooling is          in their embracing of sports and other
                                                  not education at all, but indoctrination.      extracurriculars, and their preservation
         [T]he words can be made to yield         In the latter, even if the school’s goal is    of the arts, character development,
         a sense in which they mark one of        to overcome dyslexia, attention deficit        service learning, exchange programs,
         the deepest differences which divide     disorder, autism, or other conditions,         and innumerable other subjects
         writers and thinkers, and, it may be,    that goal includes enabling the student        beyond the “core” of English and math,
         human beings in general. For there       to do many things, not just, for exam-         independent schools remain a “many
         exists a great chasm between those,      ple, to read, to focus, or to be aware of      things” form of schooling.
         on one side, who relate everything to    others’ minds and emotions. Nor do
         a single, central vision, one system,    religious schools necessarily adhere to        Marketing: Selling Ourselves
         less or more coherent or articulate,     a “one thing” concept. The Schools of          Without Selling Ourselves
         in terms of which they understand,       the Sacred Heart, for example, commit          Short
         think, and feel — a single, universal    themselves to five aims, briefly sum-          Branding is probably the area in which

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schools most avidly follow the HC            When it comes to staffing, schools are        both, but fewer than we’d hope.)”
model. They sometimes explicitly refer       a mixture of the hedgehog and the fox.            In fact, administrators are probably
to their “brand,” and work at find-          A good school has numerous hedge-             most like foxes because there is usually
ing a specific characteristic that sets      hogs: teachers who believe that Latin         a pack of hounds baying at their heels.
them apart. We are advised to develop        is essential to an educated mind, that            But foxy thinking is most essential
the “elevator speech” that will attract      mathematics is the ground of all valid        in the educational process, for two
applicants and open wallets. Elevator        knowledge, or that art alone taps the         reasons. The first is that, as brain
speeches may be useful, but I doubt          core of the human spirit. They have           scientists now tell us, mental develop-
they can capture a school’s essence as       coaches, librarians, and community            ment is a process of “branching and
they might, for example, capture the         service directors who see their work as       pruning”: building new neural net-
superiority of a website, a consumer         central to their lives and the life of the    works and eliminating those that are
product, or even a particular charity        school. Think of two coaches debating         not needed. Beyond the neurological,
(e.g., “strong legs run so that weak         the merits of, say, football versus soc-      we know that most young people, if
legs may walk”). Recently, Senator Al        cer, or two teachers battling over sched-     they fit the metaphor, are either foxes
Franken noted that the word “No” fits        ule space for writing or for science          or serial hedgehogs. The child fasci-
very well on a bumper sticker, but that      lab: the image of bristling hedgehogs         nated with dinosaurs or horses, trucks
complex ideas often have to say, “Con-       comes quickly to mind.                        or ballet may indeed grow up to be an
tinued on next bumper sticker.”                  These hedgehogs, no doubt, are            archeologist, equestrian, auto engi-
    Branding and mission come                the central experience of school for          neer, or choreographer, but most likely
together in the mission statement, of        most students. We remember best               will move to different enthusiasms
course, and the struggle to distill a mis-   the hedgehog teacher, coach, or advi-         or keep this early interest as a part of
sion statement into “one big thing” has      sor whose life was dominated by a             a balanced life. (I once asked a three-
taken more committee time in schools         discipline, a sport, or a principle. Still,   year-old what she wanted to be when
than did the writing of the Constitu-        although we carry for the rest of our         she grew up. ‘A ballerina, or a duck,’
tion in Philadelphia. Often the solution     lives the memory of that art teacher,         she replied.)
is to squeeze many things into the one       drama director, or football coach, rarely         Dr. Mel Levine has often spoken of
big thing, as is often the case with the     do we follow him or her into that par-        the “child generalist and the adult spe-
most succinct of school statements,          ticular hedgehog career and passion.          cialist,” pointing out a natural course
the school motto. Take these classic         Rather, we incorporate that vision into       of development that does make school
school mottos: “Dare to Be True,”            our own collection of fox tools.              a very challenging place for some
“Non Sibi” (Not for Oneself), “Finis             As we move up (excuse the value           children. But it is necessary for the
Origine Pendet” (The End Depends             metaphor) the administrative ladder,          young to be generalists, or they may
on the Beginning), “Age Quod Agis”           we come to more and more situations           never hit upon their specialty. More
(which, the school head told me, stu-        in which foxiness is essential. If most       important, the adult who specializes
dents translated as: “Whatever Floats        staff members of the school are like          from childhood may be painfully, even
Your Boat”), or “‘Imi na ‘auao” (Seek        instrumental musicians — maintain-            dangerously, unable to function in the
Enlightenment). Each is deliberately         ing the primacy of violin or trumpet,         general world where we spend most of
broad enough to fit a whole skulk of         oboe or cello — then heads, deans, and        our non-working time. An 11-year-old
foxes or array of hedgehogs within           others in leadership are conductors,          student recently told me he had no
its words or walls.1 In fact, two of the     trying to ensure that all conflicts result    interest in social studies because all he
country’s most renowned schools,             in a harmony of many timbres. In fact,        cared about was math.
Phillips Academy (Massachusetts) and         the author of a collegiate blog, inside-          “But math can’t tell you who to vote
Phillips Exeter Academy (New Hamp- , saw this as the core of         for in an election,” I suggested.
shire)s, have two or three mottoes           academic conflict: “Substitute ‘faculty’          “The only thing that interests
apiece, besides the unofficial “Youth        for ‘hedgehog’ and ‘administrator’ for        me about elections is the math,” he
from Every Quarter.” Rob Evans also          ‘fox’ and you’ve pretty much got it. If       replied.
notes that “virtually every school… has      hedgehogs want foxes to understand                And while high-stakes testing has
a mission statement. Many also have a        them, getting mad at them for not             moved the content of education into
vision statement, and a number have          being hedgehogs is unlikely to help.          a one-or-two-thing straightjacket, the
gone for the trifecta, adopting a set of     (This is also probably why good aca-          “cutting edge” of pedagogical thought
core values as well.” That’s pretty far      demic administrators are relatively           today seems to lean toward the fox side
from “one big thing.”                        rare, and why wonderful professors            of the equation. From multiple intel-
                                             often crash and burn in the dean’s            ligences to differentiated instruction
The Twin Chambers of the                     office. The skills of the hedgehog and        to brain-based teaching, most repu-
School’s Heart: Adults and                   of the fox are different in some fairly       table theorists favor schooling that is
Children                                     basic ways. Some people are good at           multivalent in approach, whatever its

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      content. As the writer G.K. Chesterton       topics.”2                                                   terms for a group of foxes, “array” is
      wrote, “There is one thing is needful            I think education is far more like                      debated. One authority writes “A group of
      — everything.”                               politics and diplomacy than it is like                      captive (pet) hedgehogs is called a herd. In
         The second reason can be put              business. We hope that what we are                          the wild, you would never find a group of
      almost syllogistically:                      doing will make sense for our students                      hedgehogs, as they are solitary animals.”
                                                   10 or 20 years down the road, rather                     2. Tetlock and Collins are not the only
      Education prepares people for the            than that it will produce a quarterly                       21st-century authors to take up the
         future.                                   return superior to that of our nearest                      hedgehog and the fox. In 2003, Stephen
      The future is unknown.                       competitor, or allow us to gain market                      J. Gould’s publishers brought out The
      Therefore education, to be as open as        share over the next year or two.                            Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox,
         possible to the unknown, should be            We might, in fact, summarize:                           Gould’s posthumous contribution to the
         about many things.                        to fill your school today, speak like a                     “two cultures” debate, and 2011 has seen
                                                   hedgehog; to educate your students for                      the arrival of philosopher Ronald Dworkin’s
          In fact, there is significant evidence   tomorrow, act like a fox.                                   Justice for Hedgehogs, an argument for the
      that foxes are more successful in deal-                                                                  unity of values.
      ing with the future than hedgehogs.          What Do We Want for Our
      Philip E. Tetlock’s, Expert Political        Students?
      Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can            Let us end with Isaiah Berlin, who
      We Know? sets out to find out whether        concluded that the search for an HC
      experts can predict the future in the        was the bane of Tolstoy’s life. As he
      complex arena of global politics.            put it, “Tolstoy was by nature a fox, but
      Taking events from Middle Eastern,           believed in being a hedgehog…. His
      African, and Russian politics of the         genius lay in the perception of specific
      1980s and 1990s, Tetlock examined in         properties, the almost inexpressible
      detail the methods and results of vari-      individual quality by virtue of which
      ous experts in government, academia,         the given object is uniquely different
      and the media, to see who was most           from all others.”
      successful in predicting the course of           Substitute “student” for “object”
      events, and especially who was most          and you have an ideal, if idealistic,
      likely to fall into major errors. His        statement of what the educational
      conclusion is exactly the reverse of         process should be. Using all our foxy
      Collins’s:                                   skills, we should aim at guiding each
                                                   particular student to see the world in
         Low scorers look like hedgehogs: think-   all its uniqueness and specificity. If,
         ers who “know one big thing,” aggres-     as has happened before, a hedgehog
         sively extend the explanatory reach of    — an Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a Buck-
         that one big thing into new domains,      minster Fuller, a Bill Gates — enrolls
         display bristly impatience with those     at our independent school, we can help
         who “do not get it,” and express          that student to cultivate his or her One
         considerable confidence that they are     Big Thing. But we should also remind
         already pretty proficient forecasters,    such students that there is much else
         at least in the long term. High scor-     in the world besides that One Big
         ers look like foxes: thinkers who know    Thing. And we must primarily nurture
         many small things (tricks of their        the confidence and abilities of the vast
         trade), are skeptical of grand schemes,   majority, the foxes, who will probably
         see explanations and predictions not      not change the world — just keep it
         as deductive exercises but rather as      turning.
         exercises in flexible “ad hocery” that
         require stitching together diverse        Having recently completed his eighth interim headship,
         sources of information and are rather     Richard Barbieri is spending the year writing, advis-
         diffident about their own forecasting     ing schools, and volunteering for Facing History and
         prowess.                                  Ourselves. He can be reached at richarde.barbieri@
      And perhaps most significantly,
      “Hedgehogs just made too many                Notes
      mistakes spread out over too many            1. While “skulk” or “leash” are the standard

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