I was driving back to Kansas City from Springfield along Highway 13 while listening to the audiobook of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, & Steel when it occurred to me that I was one third of the way through and had heard next to nothing about Guns. It being the most primary titular component, I expected its theme to present first; alas, I was driving disappointed. As the second period of this most actionless hockey game of a book progressed, Leo Tolstoy's name caught my attention.
Diamond was talking about why certain large animals have never been domesticated when he paraphrased the Russian master's opening line,
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
When I heard this, I slowly stopped thinking about the reasons pachyderms can't be pets and found my thoughts in a more familiar place: school. I may be struggling to keep my attention on the dissertation-like structure of Diamond's Pulitzer Prize winning piece, but he checked me from behind with this device for examining a complex system.
Like a family or a phylum of animals, a school system can be examined with the Anna Karenina Principle. I started to think about what it was about schools, learning, and teaching that was observable in successful examples. As I do with many important questions, I looked to my personal learning network online for responses.
I'd love to hear what you have to say. Here's the audio of my question too if you're curious. Feel free to interpret the question personally, your own modified answer may address something more interesting than what I've asked (as my students sometimes do).