Good Work: Commitment to Place

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places
–March Piercy

I’ve lived in four places I love. When I was 10 we lived in DC and toured museums and battlefields every weekend. I’m sure I complained about some of the trips, but I was fascinated by the place. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be an architect or historian.
When I was in middle school my folks moved to Denver. I grew up skiing and climbing. Anyplace I could see Mt. Evans felt like home. It was the first time I experienced a spiritual connection with a place.
In 1994, we moved to a city on the Puget Sound. We began exploring on the poor mans yacht–the ferry system. I quickly connected with the water and became a tide junky. When the tide was low, I wanted to be on the beach.  The combination of wind, water, and season make the beach and tide pools of Poverty Bay different every day.
I’ve spent the last four months in the desert hills around Phoenix and, in addition to the sunshine, I’ve enjoyed exploring the landscape on foot and bike.
It’s a blessing to work in a place you love–a place where you feel connected, grounded, rejuvenated.
But I’ve been making weekly trips to the midwest and I’m writing about Detroit and Milwaukee.  It’s not that these places don’t have a lot to offer but I was born in Ann Arbor, so I know about piles of brown snow.  The folks doing good work there weren’t attracted by physical beauty. They’ve made a commitment to place–sometimes for a complicated set of reasons, sometimes just because “it’s where I’m from.”
I really appreciate folks like Howard Fuller in Milwaukee.  I appreciate Doug Ross and Tom Willis in Detroit.  I appreciate teachers and EdLeaders that have made a commitment to place–in spite of not because of what the place has to offer.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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