Who isn’t familiar with the story of David and Goliath? In his most recent book, “David and Goliath” (Little, Brown and Company 2013), Malcolm Gladwell does his usual masterful job of shedding fresh new insights into an old tome. Quick review: Jewish shepherd boy David slays the Philistine giant Goliath by cutting off his head after rendering him helpless with a stone to the forehead. ESPN Sports Center might use it as their lead story with a tease like this: Newcomer David KO' World Champion Goliath in First Round!
Gladwell does not detract from the Biblical account of the incident by diminishing the faithfulness of David as he trusted the Israelites’ God and answered the call to face Goliath. The stakes were huge as the victor would claim ownership over the losing nation. When no other Israelite stepped forward to do battle, a shepherd boy who was only there because he was delivering food to his brothers, volunteered. King Saul objected, viewing David’s lack of battle-tested experience as making him an unacceptable opponent. But David persisted, referring to his resume which included killing a lion and a bear, claiming that he had already defeated tougher adversaries than the giant. The rest is history.
Gladwell enhances the story by interjecting some ancient military history that I was unaware of. Historians point out that battles in those times were fought with three tactical approaches: the use of the army’s cavalry, infantry and artillery. Goliath was in the Philistine infantry. Had David been in the Israeli army, he would have been in the artillery, which consisted of archers and slingers. David was an expert slinger, hence he had been able to slay both a lion and bear with his sling and stones. Archers and slingers were valuable because they could fight from a distance. When Goliath challenged the Israelites to meet him on the field of combat, he anticipated that another infantryman would be sent out to meet him one-on-one, in which case, the giant was an overwhelming favorite. David, rejecting King Saul’s offer of his own shield, armor and spear, opted to fight on his terms, utilizing his strength as an accomplished slinger.
For the past several years, we have been encouraging school administrators and teachers to implement prevention and school improvement strategies which make more effective use of students. You can visualize this transformation as switching seats in a car; moving the student from the back seat to the driver’s seat while the adult is helpfully nearby in the passenger seat. To be honest, it has been frustrating at times to get a willingness from the adults in charge to consider a new paradigm when it comes to recognizing and utilizing the organic influence that youth possess. Consider these facts: students comprise roughly 90% of the individuals that populate a typical campus and represent 1/3 of the stakeholders in a school, the other two-thirds made up of parent groups and school employees. Yet even with these metrics, they are grossly underrepresented while arguably possessing the greatest amount of influence upon each other. Ever see a student- influencer raise an eyebrow or offer a smirk or chuckle during the Principal’s intercom explanation of the new cell phone policy? Other students notice it; who do you think carries the greater influence? Our experience is that students are in the best position to understand the real issues that impact school climate and culture and are capable of implementing campaigns that truly make a difference, yet they are rarely given an authentic seat at the table.
The case of David exemplifies our claim:
*David was uninterested in trying the tired old solutions of past battles. He rejected King Saul’s armor and knew that this old ploy would be unsuccessful against Goliath;
* David was not looked upon as a “traditional” leader, due in part to his youthfulness and his station in life. However, he had skills and talents that had gone unrecognized until he had the opportunity to use them. Don’t forget, he went on to become one of the Israelites’ greatest kings.
*He was confident that his tactic would secure a victory because he knew the conditions and environment in which the battle would be fought (think lion and bear);
*He realized that something different needed to be tried and that if the same old—same old was employed again, the same (unsuccessful) results would be fretted over.
David possessed what we call the” ultimate renewable energy source” of youth! He was self-assured, confident and undeterred by the negativism of the adults around him. He felt “called” to do this work, similar to the testimonials we have heard from countless youth when given the opportunity to be game-changers in the challenges related to school climate and culture. We can learn a lot from this humble shepherd boy and we can use this Bible story to challenge ourselves to think innovatively and try some new tactics on some old problems.
The next time one sets out to address school climate and culture issues, we encourage all to creatively engage students who are tasked with carrying our old tools of change to listen, hear and recognize the assets that may be hiding in plain sight!