Why Are We Called Committed Sardines?

Why Are We Called Committed Sardines?

Committed Sardine Logo 2


Nicky and I live a very busy and full life of travel and talk, so whenever we start feeling overwhelmed by our schedule, there’s a place we like to visit. It’s the Monterey Aquarium in Monterey, California – the world’s greatest aquarium in our opinion. We were there recently, and after we paid for our tickets, we walked inside. On the right-hand side, there’s a gift shop where they play a video about the Blue Whale.

The Blue Whale is largest and at 190 decibels, the loudest mammal on Earth. A Blue Whale weighs more than a fully loaded 737. It is the length of 2 1/2 transport buses put an end to end. It has a heart size of Volkswagen Beetle, a tongue 8 feet long; and it weighs more than 25 elephants. A baby Blue Whale is estimated to gain 15 pounds an hour in its first year of life. A very little known fact about the Blue Whale is that it is so mammoth that if it is swimming in one direction, and wants to turn and go in another direction,  it takes a Blue Whale 3 to 5 minutes to turn 180 degrees. There are a lot of people in education today who draw a strong parallel between the Blue Whale and our existing school systems. Both seem to take forever to turn around.

But if you walk past the video on the Blue Whale, turn to the left and walk on for about 50 yards, you come to what we consider to be the absolute center piece of the aquarium. It’s a ten-story, all glass tank, inside of which the aquarium staff has placed many of the creatures that are indigenous to the Monterey Bay. If you’ve ever read John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, you will know that a century ago every year in the inner Monterey Bay, there used to appear schools of fish – actually they were schools of sardines  -that were the length, width, and depth of city blocks. Schools of sardines that had a mass, not of one, two, or three Blue Whales, but of a thousand.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed it the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

But there’s a fundamental difference between the way a Blue Whale turns around – three to five minutes – and the way a school of sardines turns around – instantly. How do the sardines do it? How do they know when to turn? Is it ESP? Is it Twitter? Are they using Facebook or Snapchat? Because we were curious, we walked up to the tank and pressed our noses against the glass and stared at the massive school of sardines that was swimming around inside.

At first, the sardines appeared to all be swimming in the same direction. However, after a while, as our eyes adjusted to the light, we began to realize, slowly at first, that at any one time, there would be a small group of sardines that were swimming in another direction – and when they did this, they caused conflict, discomfort, and distress.

But finally, when a critical mass of truly committed sardines was reached – not 50 or 60% of the sardines who wanted to change – but 10 to 15% who truly believed in change – the rest of the school instantly turned and followed. This is exactly what has happened over the past few years with our perspectives about things such as tobacco, the unacceptability of drinking and driving, the emergence of social media, or concern about climate change. Each one of these shifts in attitude was an overnight success that was years in the making even though they seemed to happen overnight.


Our question is – who amongst you is willing to become a Committed Sardine? Who amongst you is willing to swim against the flow? Who amongst you is willing to swim against conventional wisdom, against our longstanding and traditional practices and assumptions about education – and begin to move our schools, begin to move our students, our communities and our nations – from where they are to where they need to be? That’s why we’re called Committed Sardines!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed it the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

The only thing worse than not being able to see, is being able to see and having no vision…Helen Keller

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December 2017

Committed Sardine

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