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Published:September 12th, 2005 07:07 EST
Something To Think About

Something To Think About

By Yvonne Battle-Felton

Today`s educational lesson has been brought to you by, McDonalds. McDonalds, providing students the food they need to succeed. McDonalds is proud to present today`s after school activities: football, chess and burger flipping. Is this what they mean by "think outside the box"?

I recently attended my first Citizen`s Advisory Education Council of Baltimore County Public Schools monthly meeting. The meeting is supposed to be a time for parents and educators to meet with government officials about state, local and federal programs and funding. The representative from the governor`s office tried to urge parents and teachers to think outside the box " and approve the governor`s bill to fund education.

The governor`s office supports creating private partnerships with businesses. They call this privatization. I call it endorsements. I can`t help but wonder what happened to the public school being privately funded by Enron?

Officials with different agendas represented other offices and their views, but all speeches ended with the same appeal: think outside the box". I left that meeting utterly confused and tempted to blame myself for being opposed to some of their suggestions. I couldn`t focus on their true agenda because I could not get past their collective chant: "think outside the box, think outside the box, think outside the box".

It seems the challenge of 2005 has been issued: think outside the box. This mantra has become the war cry throughout government, and in the education, business and medical fields. Commercials, news articles, book reviews, websites, advertisements, and even news programs are urging the public to seek a new way of thinking. The concept implies there is something wrong with the way people normally think and that a new problem, product or idea requires non-traditional or unusual solutions. Are these people still afraid of what is inside Pandora`s box?

According to, think outside the box " refers to solving a puzzle. In the puzzle, the person must connect the dots. The only rule is that the pen cannot leave the paper. There is no rule about the lines remaining in the border but people assume the lines must remain within the border, creating a box.

The media uses this phrase to encourage readers to change their point of view. But why should we completely abandon thinking inside the box? Sometimes, it is appropriate and sufficient to stay in the box. This can still be a useful and satisfactory option if you are clever enough to figure out how to use what you already have. New and different does not always mean better. Examine every corner of an issue, every possible angle for potential solutions. Turn the box upside down and shake it until something worthwhile drops out. Perhaps then we will find that the answer to school funding is not privatization but proper budgeting. And if, after exploring all the existing possibilities, you find that they can`t be made to work, then you can try looking outside the box for answers. But start with the simple and obvious choices that are right in front of you first, inside the box; work your way outward only if needed.

Think outside the box " inspires some to think and others to think differently. Over-use of the phrase causes it to lose its meaning and places it within a realm of common phrases. Perhaps some problems can be solved by new ways of looking for solutions or by looking at the problems in a new light, but that is not always necessary and should not typically be the first course of action. Although the phrase has endured since 1975, perhaps it is time to discard the box and just think.