Joe’s Journal: Focus, Focus, Focus

Posted on Oct 11, 2011 | 2 Comments

“Organizations are special-purpose institutions. They are effective because they concentrate on one task. If you were to go to the American Lung Association and say, ‘Ninety percent of all adult Americans suffer from ingrown toenails; we need your expertise in research, health education, and prevention to stamp out this dreadful scourge,’ you’d get the answer: ‘We are interested only in what lies between the hips and the shoulders.’ That explains why the American Lung Association or the American Heart Association or any of the other organizations in the health field get results.”

–Peter F. Drucker

Peter Drucker is trying to tell us that in social sector organizations, if you do diversify too far away from your mission it destroys the performance capacity. In education, for example, if you compare public schools to parochial schools what you often find is that the public schools are forced under law and regulation to do a number of things that pull them away from their main mission, which is to educate children.

So, private schools are delivering significantly better results now. And sure, there’s some self-selecting that comes from parents applying pressure and paying tuition, but basically the private schools are dedicated to delivering just education and not dealing with all sorts of other social issues.

Schools have gotten distracted. I think we need to get back to minimum levels of literacy, and we need to find ways to help students discern their strengths and to build on the strengths.

I am still not convinced that teaching English as a second language is the right thing to do for the waves of Spanish-speaking immigrants. The reason I’m not convinced is because it seems difficult to make people fluent in two languages (both speaking and writing), and English is a tough language in and of itself. We need to at least get that right since it is the global language. In earlier waves of immigration, people wanted the next generations to learn English and let the old languages go. Of course, Spanish is a little different because of the proximity and connections to family in Spanish-speaking countries.  While it is wonderful to be multilingual, I just worry that ESL teaching is an example of how our schools are being forced to deal with a lot of problems and dynamics that are redirecting them away from getting the basics right.

–Joe Maciariello


  1. Ed Bantlow
    October 15, 2011

    Joe: Teaching ESL is designed to help speakers of other languages to learn to speak English. It is not multilingual ed, it is teaching English to children who need to study in U.S. schools. These are primarily young people born abroad, but many others wanting to learn the language of our country: doctors in U.S. med schools, business men wishing to learn, even serious travelers, etc. If you went to live in France they would call it FSL (French as a Second Language), so that you would become fluent in French so much faster.

  2. Bob Morris
    October 15, 2011

    Joe: Here in Texas, there has been controversy about ESL for decades. My favorite comment on it was provided by the state’s first female governor, “Ma” Ferguson: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for me.”


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