Honoring the Past as we Build the Future

December 8, 2014


Lee Fleming

Lee Fleming

Do you know who the woman in this picture is? 

Alice Mary Robertson, the second woman to serve in Congress and the first from Oklahoma.  She was in office from 1921-1923 and she was an early adopter of new technology.

Alice may not have had a laptop, but she passionately fought for modern technologies that existed in her day.  She was the country’s first postmaster of a Class A Post Office appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Her work in World War I led to the Muskogee, Oklahoma American Red Cross Chapter and she was the first woman elected to office after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution passed extending the vote to women.

I had the good fortune to meet Alice Robertson, or at least a woman who portrayed Alice Robertson, at the 75th anniversary of her namesake junior high school in Muskogee, Oklahoma last month.  The thoughtful leadership team at Alice Robertson Junior High recognized that talking about a future change is so much more powerful in the context of honoring the past of the community.

Though I have had the pleasure of attending many community forums, board meetings, and launch experiences for incoming New Tech Network schools, it is unusual to hear much of the school history.  In addition to a historical figure talking about her life prior to when the school was founded, the evening featured a video highlighting various members of the community who talked about their experience at the Junior High from the 1950s to the present.  The video ended with current junior high students and what they experience now as learners.

Once the tone was set of warm community appreciation of the history and present school success, the school leadership and I were able to articulate the need to stay current and adaptive for the future world—and that a New Tech implementation would help them meet that goal.

There was no criticism of where the school had been, or highlighting of things gone wrong, but an optimistic focus on where the school needs to go to equip students with what they need for life as adults in the modern world.

How often, in some community forums, has the vision for the future felt like a dagger in the heart to the alumni of a school?  I wonder if we sometimes misunderstand the dialogue to be a criticism rather than a reality that the technologies of the past, the methodologies, the culture—were all at one time progressive.  That “the way things have always been done” is only true for a phase after the previous way was no longer a viable option.

Men and Women like Alice Robertson lived a life on the edge—and would never have wanted any of us to settle in and hibernate on the heels of their efforts believing that they finished everything they set out to do.