I returned home last night from a three-day trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin after attending the 21st annual National Quality Education Conference (NQEC). This conference is sponsored by the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and is always an excellent opportunity to collaborate, share, and learn from other quality-minded educators from across our country and around the world. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

I would like to first share something that caught my attention as I was exiting the TSA screening area at Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport. While putting on my shoes and gathering all of my stuff from the conveyor belt, I looked up to see this sign:


I think this is a great idea that needs to catch on.

I have traveled quite a bit and have never seen a sign like this before yesterday. Based on my cursory internet query, Milwaukee may have the only airport that has one. The small area where this sign is posted in the airport is rather nondescript—just a little patch of carpet with a few chairs. The sign did what it was intended to do: it made me smile.

The “recombobulation area” is where you put your shoes and belt back on; repack the laptop; gather your coins, keys, iPad, and cell phone; and maybe regain a little composure and dignity.

It is a clever reference to the challenges of travel these days: from shoe and belt removal to unpacking all of your belongings into gray tubs to body screening machines to standing on yellow footprints and finally to frantic dashes to distant gates in search of your next connection.

I understand why the screening process at airports has to happen. Despite that knowledge, each time I am subjected to the experience the inner Marine comes out in me. I feel like tossing on a helmet and body armor, grabbing a weapon, and flying to Afghanistan to take out a few terrorists! Do you feel me?

Suffice it to say, I am definitely in need of some recombobulation!

We are all familiar with the term “discombobulate.” It means to throw into a state of confusion; to befuddle or perplex.

Recombobulation, then, is simply the act of putting things back into order and removing confusion.

This got me thinking. It’s more than just our travel experiences that lead to the need for a recombobulation space to recover from discombobulating occurrences. I think this theme is a good metaphor for the current discourse surrounding public education across our state and nation.

We are clearly in state of discombobulation when it comes to school reform. The reforms of the past ten to fifteen years have been driven primarily by non-educators, billionaires, and bureaucrats. The singular emphasis on external accountability measures, bolstered by a system of rewards and punishments, has taken our eye off of the real factors that impact teaching and learning in our schools.

This effort has been intentional. The deformers seek to denigrate and demean our teachers and schools, thereby throwing our public school system (including our parents) into a state of discombobulation, which will then lead to the dismantling and deforming of our education system.

As we have discussed previously, the end game is then the expansion of federal control and the simultaneous privatization and “profitization” of public education. In short, they wish to strip away the last vestiges of local control and grant decision-making authority to a small number of powerful and wealthy individuals who can then become even more powerful and wealthy.

Let me return to what I and hundreds of other educators got together to discuss in Milwaukee this weekend. The intent of the NQEC Conference each year is to provide opportunities to interact with other quality-minded educators and organizations for the purpose of identifying systems and processes that can improve student learning and achievement. Here are a few of the crazy things we talked about:

• Innovation through Shared Leadership
• Process Management to Improve Services and Learning
• Creative Collaboration and Common Lesson Planning:Developing Effective Instruction to Improve Outcomes
• Common Core Standards and Student Learning
• Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL): Improving Processes for Teaching and Learning

THESE are the type of discussions that need to be occurring in classrooms, schools buildings, district offices and local school boards every day, NOT arguments about A-F report cards, high stakes standardized tests, and how to comply with hundreds of ridiculous mandates.

In many cases, in districts like mine and a large number of others in Oklahoma, these conversations ARE happening. Sadly, they are not happening as much as they need to in our current climate because of the fog of confusion created by the deformers and their haphazard and reckless initiatives.

It is time to recombobulate public education in America. Let’s make this our new battle cry!

We must work together to emerge from the deformers’ reign of confusion and put things back in order. Let us return to the time when parents, communities, teachers, administrators, and local school boards were free to make decisions to benefit the children who attended their own schools.

Recombobulation. It’s an idea whose time has come. Let’s do it!