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Cover image via Dr Seuss Wiki. 

Education continues to be a topic of great concern, and the conversations around it tend to be filled with fiery and sometimes divisive rhetoric. Lawmakers, business leaders, education professionals and parents often end up pitted against each other in the debate about how to best pursue a better education system. Sadly, there are also many outside interest groups who seem much more interested in their interests than they are in the interests of our students. It is time for a different kind of conversation about education.

As with so many things that need fixing in our society, the solutions are not likely to be found in marbled halls or legislative chambers but in places and spaces where children learn and play. Last week we celebrated the birthday of the beloved children’s book author Dr. Seuss. Helping children not only learn to read, but to love it, was his passion. A book finished after Dr. Seuss passed away may well hold the solution to improving education in our state and the nation.

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! is the fabulous story of a community school, where local administrators empower and reward innovative teachers to deliver a unique and powerful approach to learning – for the students! The Diffendoofer school employs teachers who teach such topics as listening, smelling, laughing and yelling. Even those teaching traditional subjects like art, science, math and reading do it in a way that is classic Dr. Seuss crazy and whimsical but also creative and constructive.

Led by the irrepressible teacher Miss Bonkers, the school seems to be thriving until the principal, Mr. Lowe, comes into the lunchroom to make an announcement. With great fear and fidgeting he declares:

All schools for miles and miles around
Must take a special test,
To see who’s learning such and such –
To see which School’s the best.
If our small school does not do well,
Then it will be torn down,
And you will have to go to school.
In dreary Flobbertown.

Flobbertown is a neighboring school where everyone does everything the same. They dress in one style, sing one song, think one way, march in single file, they have no park, and their dogs are actually scared to bark.

The Diffendoofer School kids become scared they will lose their amazing teachers and unique approach to learning. Miss Bonkers jumps to the front of the room and assures the students that they have learned all they needed to learn and something else that matters more – they have been taught how to creatively think.

Well, the test is taken, and the children rapidly realize they know what they need to know and they are great at thinking. They pass the test and their local school is saved.

I have made Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! required reading for my employees and interns for years. It demonstrates the kind of thinking we need in education and across the public and private sector.

Every discussion of education must begin and end with the unique needs of the students and the two vital things every child must take with them from their formal schooling experience – knowing how to learn and a love of learning. We live in a world where we have more changes in one of our 24-hour days than our grandparents experienced in decades of their lives. Knowing how to learn and developing a true love of continuous learning will be the determining success factor for 21st-century students and workers.

Before launching on the sea of debate around buildings, funding, taxes and control we should all read Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! and recognize that the answers we adults are looking for in education results may best be found and achieved by following the principles contained within the pages of a children’s book. It is, after all, about the kids.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

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