“The Symphony Will Just Be Noise” (Thoughts on Non-educator Administrators)

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In her post yesterday on EdWeek’s Bridging Differences blog, Diane Ravitch used a great analogy in denouncing (I mean denouncing in the sense of “condemning openly as being reprehensible”) the increasingly popular practice of installing non-educators in positions of educational leadership, the high-profile appointment of Cathleen Black to the chancellorship of New York City’s public schools being the most recent example:

…the conductor of the orchestra (the person who “runs” it) must know how to read music and must know quite a lot about each of the instruments and how to bring them together to produce a beautiful sound. Without that skill set, the symphony will just be noise.

I had to laugh when I read this, because one of my dearest friends actually is a professional conductor. He is also a competition-level solo pianist. He plays a number of other orchestral instruments with some facility and understands the range and capabilities of the rest of them enough to pen original orchestral compositions. That level of musicianship is not optional in his line of work.

I remember the dumbfounding feats of piano virtuosity he was required to perform (“Can a human being really do that?”) just to be considered for graduate programs in conducting. After nearly 15 years of experience and apprenticeship (apprenticeship to master musicians and conductors is another understood requirement, by the way), he is just now approaching qualification for a position of real leadership, say, a bottom-rung assistantship with a metropolitan symphony.

The more I think about Diane Ravitch’s analogy, the more I like it. I would love to hear some other good ones. Any come to mind?