Hello Everyone,

During this COVID-19 pandemic, I feel the need to write, if just for my own sanity.  You do not need to feel obligated to read my ruminations, however.  Let me know if you are not interested.

Building on my previous series of “Obamagrams” and “PetePosts,” I have decided to dub these “Exograms.”  They are not intended to be political, in a partisan sense, but they will probably wander into that territory on occasion.

Exograms is a reference to my 2017 Memorandum on Chicago’s “Education Exoskeleton.”  Those of you who were on my Obamagram distribution list got a commentary on that subject at that time.  http://www.obamagrams.com/group-7/111-making-exoskeletons-to-support-and-protect-our-democracy/

In it, I wrote:

I think it can be argued that one source of America’s real strength – [and the salvation of our democracy] – lies in our 323 million citizens and our incredibly diverse array of non-governmental institutions and the endless web of informal connections among them.

A copy of the recently-revised memorandum is attached.  It begins:

For over fifty years, I have lived and worked in the Chicago area.  For more than half of that time, I have paid increasing attention to the education landscape…, from pre-kindergarten through higher education, as what might be called an activist philanthropist, as a member of nonprofit boards and councils, and as a fundraiser.

I go on to argue that an “exoskeleton” is a better metaphor than an “ecosystem” when describing the non-governmental actors of many stripes who have organically allied to help Chicago’s public schools.

While the specifics of Chicago or of public schools in general may not interest you, I hope to make the metaphor more broadly useful as a conceptual framework within which to contemplate our current predicament and its aftermath, and the very future of our democracy.

An exoskeleton “supports and protects” an animal whereas an ecosystem connotes “competition” among animals and other living things, as in a food chain.

Why is this relevant to the COVID-19 disease?  That’s because I’m seeing our current epidemiological challenge primarily through this biological lens.  I will elaborate on that as this series continues.  Suffice it to say, I think that (a) this pandemic reveals pre-existing inequities in our society that starkly manifest themselves in our education systems, as well as elsewhere; and (b) this pandemic and its effects may be much more complex and last much longer than many are currently anticipating.

As our society, and not just its schools, slowly awakes to a new reality, I believe it must become much more like an exoskeleton than the ecosystem it currently is.  We are already headed in that direction as we social distance not only in our own self-interest but to protect others, most of whom are strangers.

But before I end this initial piece, let me tell you an Obama story that greatly colors my thinking on this subject.

In 2014, I joined President Obama and about ten others he had invited for an informal dinner in Chicago.  During the course of our conversation, some one asked him what were the biggest issues on his mind.  He quickly responded, evidently having had given it much thought, saying that there were four (not necessarily in this order, but according to my contemporaneous record of them):

1) weapons of mass destruction; 2) technology’s and globalization’s effects on employment; 3) climate change; and 4) pandemics.  How prescient.

I welcome your feedback as we think together about our health, our economy, and, as Mayor Pete reminds us, our democracy. And, as he also reminded us in his campaign’s Rules of the Road, we should look for “joy” in all we do.

Please, as always, pass it along.