Relationships Matter


Since beginning this blog, I’ve become more attuned to picking up on ecological principles, sometimes in unlikely places. For example, in this article on intercontinental fiber optic cables on Popular Science, Clay Dillow refers to the ecological principal of redundancy and interconnections in terms of resiliency during times of disaster or stress:

The key to averting disasters . . .  is redundancy, Sirbu says. “If you look at the U.S., we have cable landing sites at many different places, from Florida to Maine and all up and down the West Coast as well,” Sirbu says. “Given the interconnection of networks around the world, if fiber going into one landing location is broken there is fiber landing at other locations that will still be operational. But Africa is probably the continent least densely served by fiber optics, especially when compared to Europe, North America, or East Asia. They’re in a riskier position.” [Emphasis added]

The principal of redundancy can be viewed in natural ecosystems when multiple species perform more than one function. This builds resiliency within the system, such that when one species experiences a disturbance, another species will then step up and take over its function. This is in stark contrast to modern agricultural systems which are primarily monocultural in nature, thus highly susceptible to pests, weeds, and disease.
Another article in the NY Times (h/t to Joanne Jacobs) provides a more human example of the importance of interconnections: a group called the Posse Foundation has raised disadvantaged student achievement in college by sending them together in small cohorts. 

The stories of [Posse Foundation students] tell us not just that the SAT is an inadequate predictor of college success, but that it can be malignant. Many colleges acknowledge its limitations. . . . “The one thing that made no difference whatsoever was standardized test scores,” said Cindy Babington, vice president for student services at DePauw. . . . 

The second way that Posse is subversive is that it shows that academic chops do not completely determine college success. It demonstrates other important factors: whether a student has social support, a sense of belonging and a network that can offer advice. People from a dominant culture take these things for granted, but minority students have to build them. Posse helps. Every Posse member I talked to said having the group is crucial. [Emphasis added]

So a few ecological principles can be drawn here that are directly relatable to public schools. Relationships matter. And the greater the amount and the diversity of those relationships, the healthier.
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