American Bald Eagles Do Flock After All

08/24/2015  |  With Larry Biddle

According to historic documents at The Sheldon Museum in Alaska, almost 4,000 American bald eagles gather along a five mile stretch of the Chilkat River near Haines and Klukwan, Alaska each fall. This great wildlife spectacle is the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world. Attracted by a late run of spawning chum salmon, eagles come from all over Alaska, British Columbia, and as far away as the state of Washington.

Warm water upwelling in the river bottom keeps some stretches of the Chilkat ice-free through the winter, providing a diet of salmon carcasses when food supplies elsewhere are exhausted. Starting in late October, hundreds and hundreds of eagles can be seen along the sandbars or in nearby cottonwood trees. Two dozen or more eagles in a single tree are not uncommon. Next year the gathering of Eagles leading Jostens Renaissance schools and communities will gather in Orlando, Florida for our 25th anniversary of an initiative that started as the #1 Program at Conway High School in Conway, South Carolina — the Eagles of North American education and North American business continue their quest for more results for more students and “staffulty.” For over 25 years we all have been gathering to learn and challenge each other to provide recognition for excellence in improvement as well as achievement for all students and staffulty.

As another fall semester opens, one of the quintessential tenets in Renaissance remains, “Unless we grow our people, we will not grow our institutions — churches, schools, businesses, governing bodies and entire communities.”  We have proposed, “If you don’t mind, we’d like to improve your organization’s results. Your own future depends on recognizing the most valuable resource in business — your people!”  For over 25 years we have maintained that our schools are the most important businesses in town for the future of our nation. It’s not the board rooms but rather our classrooms that drive a future for young North Americans. We say North American because Canadian Renaissance schools continue to weave our essential elements into their school communities as well.

As we consider providing authentic Staffulty Development for our schools it is imperative that we draw on some key components from “The Leader of the Future” by The Drucker Foundation that provide a tone for personal growth and development:

The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. Some people are thinkers. Some are prophets. Both roles are important and badly needed. But without followers there can be no leaders.

An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired. He or she is someone whose followers do the right things right. Popularity is not leadership. Results are.

Leaders are highly visible. Therefore they set examples.

Leadership is not rank, privilege, title or money. It is responsibility.

As a graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California and Middlebury College Language Schools in Vermont and in Madrid, Spain, I was schooled in the Great Books every semester. C. Bradley Thompson at Minding the Campus points to a new plan for higher education at Clemson University. The Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism (CISC) has created the Lyceum Scholars Program, which is America’s first (and only) academic program dedicated to studying the moral, political, and economic foundations of a free society. Drawing inspiration from the Lyceum school founded by Aristotle, the scholars take a Great Books approach to studying liberty, the American founding, capitalism, and moral character. This leading edge initiative will expose students to the thoughts that have withstood an authentic test of time for centuries. A clear indication can be found in Alexis de Tocqueville’s, “Democracy in America” written in 1831, based on a nine-month excursion in Jacksonian America, according to Arthur Milikh, Assistant Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at the Heritage Foundation. The purpose of this trip was to study our country’s political institution and the habits of mind of its citizens. Milikh states that we often boast about having attained some unimaginable redefinition of ourselves and our nation. How odd, then, that someone born 210 years ago today could understand us with more clarity and depth than we understand ourselves. Alexis deTocqueville’s insights are so prophetic it is uncanny!

Tocqueville correctly thought the then-developing America was the way of the future. As such, he foresaw that Europe would never be restored to its former greatness — though he hoped it could serve as the cultural repository of the West. Despite his hopes for America, Tocqueville feared grave obstacles would diminish our freedom — though he didn’t think them insurmountable. Most alarming to him was the power of the majority, which he thought would distort every sphere of human life. Despots of the past tyrannized through blood and iron. But the new breed of democratic despotism “does not proceed in this way; it leaves the body and goes straight for the soul.” That is, the majority reaches into citizens’ minds and hearts. It breaks citizens’ will to resist, to question its authority, and to think for themselves. The majority’s moral power makes individuals internally ashamed to contradict it, which in effect silences them, and this silencing culminates in a cessation of thinking. We see this happen almost daily: to stand against the majority is to ruin oneself.

These observations help us take stock of where we are with respect to teaching and learning—the reasons that our schools were built. Far too often the policies and procedures take precedence over our mission to prepare our students for their futures and to grow our staffulty. At Renaissance schools we make sure that we fill staffulty cups every day! How can our staffulties grow our students when their cups are so often empty?  Effective staff development goes broad and deep as it drills down into who we are as a free nation. 

Bobby Chandler, a personal friend for many years and a very respected former history teacher at Socastee High School, consistently challenged governance in the Horry County Schools due to the myriad policies that continue to strip creativity from our staffulties (staff+teachers). Holding up a small binder containing 60 pages of board policies approved by the Horry County Board of Education, he stated that a second larger binder contains 277 pages of district policies approved by the superintendent. Together, both constituted legal requirements, which affected all the citizens of our district, yet no citizen had any direct, representative input into the development and approval of any of the district policies. He reminded all of us that he did not work for the board of education, the superintendent, the principal or the department head but rather, for the tax payers who entrusted their children to his confidence, competence and care. His comments indeed go to the core of teaching young students the principles of liberty in our American system. Our schools are in the People Building Business: parents, students, staffulty, administration, and the entire community. In Renaissance schools we know it as Eagleship for all stakeholders.

Larry Biddle considered the founder of Jostens Renaissance. He has been a student of the impact of recognition on individual achievement for two decades. He served as vice-chairman of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, as well as a member of the Coastal Education Foundation at CCU.Reach him at [email protected]
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