Day and Night

I’ve always tried to be balanced. While my work generally focuses on technology, my personal life is centered around the arts. I was trained as a math teacher, but I originally enrolled in college as an English education major. If I hadn’t pursued education, I would have been an engineer. Or maybe an architect. I’m analytical, structured, organized. But I’m also creative, flexible and untethered to the way things have always been. I’m a firm believer in both the arts AND the sciences.

I’m naturally drawn to the places where these worlds intersect. M. C. Escher, for example, was a graphic artist who looked at physics and mathematics through an artist’s lens. You’ve seen his work. Every college dorm room has a print of his hands drawing themselves, or endless waterfalls, or people endlessly ascending and descending the same staircase.

When I was looking for a piece of art for my office wall, Escher seemed like a natural fit. The artist embodies my personal belief that we are at our best when we combine elements of ideas from different disciplines to make something truly original. Eventually, I settled on the 1938 woodcut, Day and Night.

Day and Night, M. C. Escher. National Gallery of Art

Escher once observed that a line can mean something on both sides. Consider the optical illusion that looks like two silhouettes facing each other. Or, is that white space between them a candlestick? The line forming the boundary between the two means something on both sides. That’s the basis for Escher’s work with tessellations. One side of the line is part of a bird, while the other side of the line is part of a fish. Working within constraints like this makes us more creative.

Along the way in this journey, I’ve also come to realize that changes we need in schools will have to be an evolution rather than a revolution. We’re not going to invent a new kind of school. We’re going to make countless little changes that move us in the direction we want to go. Somehow, that plot of farmland becomes a bird. It’s a gradual change. It happens over many generations. But a line moves, a shape forms. The image is refined as we move along. Day turns to night and back again. We’re in a constant state of movement, of transformation.

So the artwork on the wall symbolizes the work we’re trying to do. We want to be structured, with data-driven decision making and well-honed structures and processes. But we also want to be creative and flexible. We know that the schools our children attend have to be different from the ones we had. We know that the changes we need in schools are going to be painfully slow. But we have to make decisions that move us in the direction we want to go, even if it’s only one step at a time.