Failure Is Not An Option

I.  Parallels?

Why are the mandates of NCLB so difficult to swallow…  but yet a rather analogous challenge put forth in the Apollo 13 clip below is resisted for only a short period, and then finally accepted by all in a flurry of directed action?  The 120 seconds below are cinema gold.  In this scene, Ed Harris plays Gene Kranz, NASA flight director.  In briefing his team on the plight of the Apollo 13 crew, he set forth a seemingly impossible task-  a task not one of the men in the room has an easy answer to.  Give it a whirl…

Are the differences obvious?  I know-  these men will perish in short order without immediate, focused, and inspired attention.  And yet, aren’t a large number of our kids in a rather similar predicament in this country?  I would suggest that even though the “time to ultimate disaster” factor is far more lengthy… the answer is still yes.  And really, it could be argued that this is why we ended up with NCLB in the first place.  Discounting some of the more fringe and nefarious stories as to the origin and ultimate purpose of NCLB, I’d say that it is a fair assumption.

So yes, I would argue that there are parallels here.  However, the enlightened but small pack of readers here (those folks who would ever wade this far into my drivel) likely have pretty strong opinions as to what the differences here are.  Care to share a few?  It reminds me of the efficacy of sports metaphors in learning situations.  Though they almost always seem to fit in the beginning, they nearly always fall flat in practice.  Nearly always.  Why?  As a wrestling coach of nearly 20 years, I can attest to the allure of the sports metaphor.  However, there is usually a rather simple reason they fall short.  In athletics, there is nearly always an authentic, relevant, agreed-upon performance event at the end which drives all action.  So far, in US public education, we’re tried to build that same situation from the end->forward, and well…  as you know, that has thus far been a trainwreck by most measures.  As of where I sit right now, public education in America seems to be in deep need of authentic relevance and inspiring leaders.  Or is that inspiring relevance and authentic leaders?

We’ve tried the “building brains through business” model.  When do we say “nice try” and let an educator take the helm?  Actually, that previous statement likely just branded me a “fundamentalist” in some ways according to page 64 in Dr. Anthony Muhammad’s Transforming School Culture.  Now there’s a curveball.  Apparently I’m no longer as progressive as I had once thought.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have read about what Muhammad calls the “Old Contract/New Contract” so that I could remain a progressive agent of change for the better?  The last chapter I read was just seemed a bit too coercive to me from a leadership perspective.

The bottom line on my mind today?  Gene Kranz was unable to accept losing an American in space.  Yet we’re certainly “losing” a ton of Americans in our classrooms every day.  These are simply slower, quieter deaths.  Is the current coercive, CEO-headed model capable of delivering the reform we need before it is too late?  It certainly looks as if we’re going to find out.

To me, this movie clip is an awesome example of a very inspiring and seamless transfer back and forth between loose/tight leadership.  We could spark deep conversations about leadership on a fistful of points from this two-minute clip alone.  In your day to day work-  which of the characters here remind you of yourself?

II.  If I could only find…

Ever need the perfect movie clip to make a point?  Ever want to pull out just the right moment of cinema to glue all eyes and minds in one room on the same moment?  Isn’t it cumbersome to wade through two hours of video when you only need two minutes?  Find it frustrating to go through all of the the technical hassle in editing a clip from a DVD?  Not quite sure about how to abide by copyright in such situations?  Did that just sound like an ad?  What a salesman.  I think that’s probably why I stopped highlighting most webapps/services on this blog a while back.  I tend to do that on more local basis now in my district or building.  I have easily ducked any sponsored spots here from a philosophical standpoint.

Back to the slick little plug.  I like this site.  So if you need a film clip a few times in a year, well then…

“Houston… we have a solution.”

That solution is called:

As an upstart web service, Movieclips makes this process rather simple. Here, you can search through movies, genres, characters, actors, etc., to find just what you need.  If you aren’t finding that perfect clip just yet -keep in mind- the site is very new and is in the process of uploading tons of new clips each day.  The quality is rather amazing as well.  However, showing the clip at full screen resolution directly from the site allows the clip to be seen in all of its widescreen glory…  far beyond the quality of most YouTube clips.

As is typical of most any “Web2.0” app, you can comment on clips, share them out via link or embed, or simply click one button to share out via a list of the most popular social avenues such as Facebook.  Think this might be useful in some small way in your world?

The truth is, I came here to share a nifty little webservice.  I got distracted by leadership, schools, and a challenging day.


Sean Nash

Biology teacher in the great state of Kansas. Back at it in the classroom after a 30-year career in Missouri. Former District Curriculum Administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator, and Instructional Coach. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at


  1. Sean:

    Thanks for the kind comments on my blog. I’ve been reading through a lot of your posts, and enjoying them a lot!

    I think your sentiments about NCLB and the sports analogy ring true. Sports are self-contained, whereas education really has no logical end. You don’t win or lose, you either progress in one of a thousand directions or not.

    Thanks for the sweet blog. I’m pretty new to the edublog experience, consider yourself RSS aggregated!


  2. Sean,
    I read today that Rick Stiggins stated PD is about “perturbing” people into action. You and I both know it’s true, and when NCLB or Dr. Muhammad or anyone else does that to us, it’s a “very interesting situation.” (that quote is from Jimmy Steward from one of MY favorite movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Take that analogy and run with it.

    But to respond to your post requests – as a principal it seems natural that I am the Gene Kranz of BHS. With that said, it seems the team of whom I ask for solutions is my Leadership Team. My parallel is the unspoken but ever present outside force that so strongly forces my hand but rarely gets much input — I think in the movie it’s “space” and in my world it’s PARENTS.

    I have to think about that parallel longer, but – my oh my – it makes me think. ~j

  3. The character that reminds me of myself is the dude that leaves at about 1:34 seconds into the clip; the dude that leaves in response to Gene’s command, “I want people in our simulators working reentry scenarios.” I think I’m the type of (team) worker who gets to work and follows orders. I don’t wait around for others to make a move. I may not always agree with the command, but I like to think I strike a decent balance between being an obedient employee (a bit old school – my boss is my boss) and being a challengeable employee (a bit new school – I have a say in this place I work my tail off for).

    In response to Muhammad’s Old Contract versus New Contract, I believe I am split down the middle. I grew up in the era of Old Contract, and I can say I received a phenomenal education. People who know my background know it wasn’t because I had supportive parents who valued education (so one can’t use that as an excuse). I grew up in “that” family. Anyhow, the bar was set & you either met it or you didn’t (by the way, what happened to those who didn’t? Did they learn from their mistakes, or are they in some therapy group titled, “Those who didn’t make it in high school in the 80’s and 90’s”?).

    I’ve always wanted to know if the students who graduate today (or in the last ten years or so), graduate smarter than we Old Schoolers did. Is their knowledge and application of math, science, history, writing and reading better than ours? And I’m not necessarily talking about test scores here, I’m talking about asking those in the human resources fields who hire incoming employees, professors at varying colleges/universities, military recruiters, technical schools, local businesses, etc. What’s “the real world’s” take?

    Anyhow, I’d like to see a balance between Old and New, but I’m not sure if Muhammad touched on what “the best of both worlds” would look like. Is it possible? Sometimes I believe in the modern day approach to education and how it strives to teach the individual student, and sometimes I think we need to go military-style and have a little educational boot camp for our students.

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