My Brother’s Toasted Wrap: an Intro To “Quality”


Professional. You can't buy wraps that look and taste as good. ~Mark Syben

The other day I received a message on my iPhone from my brother. It was a photo of what appeared to be a grilled burrito.

“Professional. You can’t buy wraps that look and taste as good,” the caption read.

This was quickly followed by an end-on shot of the meal.

“Do you see that tuck?” He was serious. He went on to enthusiastically list its contents: brown rice, fat free re-fried beans, fresh corn, grilled chicken breast. “It weighs close to a pound!”

And I have to give it to him: this was a quality toasted wrap. approaches the word quality from a few vantage points. Definition 1 includes the word excellence; definition 19 reads marked by a concentrated expenditure of involvement, concern, or commitment. The Stay Out of School official definition of “quality” could be a hybrid: marked by a concentrated expenditure of involvement, concern, or commitment that results inexcellence. Both elements are important. After all, it’s entirely possible to expend great deals of concern or commitment on a project and end up with a crappy result. We can be totally sold out with commitment to creating the greatest widget that ever was, but if that widget ultimately doesn’t function perfectly, that’s not Quality (we can talk about the value of failure later).


Do you see that tuck? ~Mark Syben

So, back to the wrap.

What was it about this particular wrap that warranted a photo shoot? How did we both know that we were gazing on a thing of Quality?


   Each of its fundamental components was conscientiously selected for appropriateness and excellence (it was filled with great ingredients).


   It was well-built and extremely efficient to use (well, eat).


   It was beautiful.


   Its maker saw in the end result an extension and expression of himself and his own capabilities.


Robert Pirsig notes in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that, “Quality isn’t something you lay on top of subjects and objects like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Real Quality must be the source of the subjects and objects, the cone from which the tree much start.”


We’ll be talking a lot about Quality on Stay Out of School, in particular in the context of that elusive beast The Quality Education.

This is going to be particularly tough because American culture is currently at war over quality. There are so many facets of the modern American lifestyle that disregard quality completely. We’re obsessed with disposability, instant gratification, and entertainment, much of which can be difficult to merge with consistent quality (insofar as how we use our time, our bodies, our minds, and the resources we have around us).

It will be difficult to define, design, and frankly, justify the pursuit of true quality education for and within a culture that doesn’t necessarily value quality.

Fortunately, the quality culture war is gaining momentum. The Generals are organizing their armies and taking on their respective anti-quality adversaries: Michael Pollan vs Big Agriculture, Chris Brogan vs The Mind-Dominating Madison Avenue Marketing Machine, Seth Godin vs The Lizard Brain, and Derrell Bradford at E3 vs The New Jersey High School Graduate Mill.

We’ll likely talk about each of them, and others, at length in the coming months.

But before we get into all that, I want to get back to that perfectly tucked wrap. If we’re going to reform education, truly reiterate and redesign Quality Education, we’re going to have to change the culture into which that quality education leads. We have to change the chicken and the egg. Frankly, changing the aggregate American culture can start with something as small as each of us taking the time to craft and appreciate a totally awesome burrito.

This week I’m challenging you to do or make something of Quality. Use the four attributes we talked about above (great ingredients/components, well-built, beautiful, and an extension of yourself/your values). Obviously there’s a great deal of flexibility in that definition, and that’s the fun of it. This may be completely foreign to you; perhaps it’s how you live your life on an hourly basis. Either way, let’s start talking about it so it’s on the forefront of our minds.

Feel free to come back and share what you did.



Talking about quality is nearly impossible without referencing Robert Pirsig's classic treatise on the subject, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I love this book. 

Elizabeth KingComment