If you’re reading this post “live,” it’s Black Friday in my face-to-face world – and I was glad to learn, from the Wikipedia article I linked here, that the term really wasn’t in use in my childhood years. The idea of shopping – quite a lot – on the day after Thanksgiving was certainly around, and I can remember the excitement surrounding the “arrival of Santa Claus” in his igloo-shaped headquarters at our favorite department store. But nobody called it Black Friday, and no one rushed out at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day – or midnight on Friday, for that matter – to go bargain-hunting. And nobody – at least in my memory – got trampled to death in a store in those long-vanished days. The world was a less-frantic place, in some ways, four decades ago than it is today. Not necessarily better or worse – but different. And less frantic.
As it turned out, the right place for me, on this Black Friday morning, was at home, with a cup of coffee, some breakfast, and a very alert, quiet dog for company. It’s a peaceful, sunny, chilly day – a good day for a morning walk (which I’ve already had, to some degree, with Mr. Alert, Quiet Dog) and perhaps an outing later. The right time for me to start the day was a bit later than usual, too. So, when I glanced at my Facebook feed shortly before 8:00 Friday morning, I found a post from a friend asking “What was your best Black Friday deal?” Evidently her right time for shopping was already over … and I hope the deals were worth the frantic hassle.
Just like factory-model schools, the 20th-century, factory-model, mass-market economy is slowly dying, slowly giving place to something new. No one knows what that new thing will look like just yet, just as no one knows what post-industrial learning environments will look like. But as old structures slowly die, they respond predictably – by speeding up the pace, increasing the sense of frantic urgency, consciously or unconsciously attempting to deliver a message that “It’s OK! It’s better than OK!! It’s new and improved!!! And extra shiny!!!! For a limited time only!!!!!”
So stores open on Thanksgiving evening, which never happened when factory-style commerce and retailing were healthy. And schools spend countless hours on test preparation, testing, remediation, and retesting – which never happened when factory-style schooling was healthy. And school districts’ IT departments complain bitterly about “those teachers” who don’t appreciate the shiny new toys or use them properly … and “those teachers” respond with equally bitter complaints about “those out-of-touch IT people” who don’t understand “what we really need.” That didn’t happen as much when opaque projectors and overhead projectors were the high-tech tools and toys.
I’m old enough to remember, just barely, when the publishers of college-admissions tests claimed you “couldn’t study” for them. And I clearly remember the controversies about “Strivers scores” and “recentering” mentioned in this link. These days, of course, everybody – including test publishers – sells test-preparation materials for standardized tests of all sorts. And stores open on Thanksgiving evening, before the turkey and dressing have had a chance to settle.
I don’t think the juxtaposition is a coincidence.
On Thanksgiving Day, before turkey, before cooking, before the morning church service so few people attend, I found this blog post in my Google+ stream and started this thread about it. There was something about the tone of the piece that bothered me, but it took you all – faithful readers, wonderful PLN members – to help me figure it out. First I thought it was just the whining and the not-so-hidden sense of entitlement. Then I thought it was the factory-model mentality. But eventually I realized something – something that connects with the frantic urgency of late-stage 20th-century retailing and late-stage 20th-century schooling and, perhaps, with other late-stage 20th-century structures that are slowly collapsing.
There’s a very strong sense, in all those places, of Us vs. Them. There’s Us – the enlightened ones with the degrees and credentials, the subject-matter expertise, the hidden knowledge. And there’s Them – those poor, benighted fools, bless their hearts, who need, but don’t know that they need, benign specialists like Us to come in there and tell Them what they actually want and need. ”Sit down, shut up, and do the worksheet,” says Ms. X. ”You’ll thank me later.” Her counterparts in retailing and manufacturing send the same message, except that “buy the product” replaces “do the worksheet.” And right there in Ms. X’s workplace, some IT worker has the temerity – the impudence, even – to define Ms. X as one of Them!
Us vs. Them thinking is attractive, natural – and ultimately self-destructive. Say what you will about Them, one thing is usually true: being ordered around, patronized, and ignored generally doesn’t win hearts or minds. Instead, it breeds anger, contempt, and a corresponding desire to do unto those others (the self-identified elite) what They just did to Us. A lose-lose situation, much like the angry standoffs in so many retail stores on Black Friday … and in so many factory-model schools every day.
But how can we move beyond Us vs. Them, to build joyful communities big and strong enough to embrace Them as part of Us? As 20th-century structures slowly give way to – whatever they’re giving way to – I think we’ll find the answer. If the Us-groups try too hard to hang onto their fast-dying power and privilege, it may be a painful, bumpy ride for everyone.
How do we build joyful learning communities in the midst of a slowly-dying factory? Perhaps the first step is to stop. Stop and listen. Listen to Them … and do stuff with them, not for or to them. Listen, find common ground, and work together.
What do you think? Could it really be that simple – and that difficult?