The Pain Test, I

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that I’m participating in some Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs this fall:

It’s exciting to take on the role of learner as well as teacher!  It’s funny: I’ve learned many new things over the past few years as I’ve worked on successive versions of the Tres Columnae Project, but I’ve still mostly felt like an expert. After all, I do know more Latin than (most) Tres Columnae participant-learners, and I’ve been working with computers – and trouble-shooting computer issues – for a long time.  The specific details of maintaining a CMS-based website were new, but the thought process was familiar.

That’s much less true in my MOOC experiences.  Yes, the content is somewhat familiar, and yes, I’ve been involved in “starting up” Tres Columnae for a while now.  But many of the skills and understandings I’m developing  are new – and I’m relishing the opportunity to feel like a novice again, even as I continue with my expert role in my face-to-face teaching world.

Now I wonder how many of us teachers voluntarily embrace the novice role, and how often.  It’s hard to give up the status and perks of an expert once you attain them – hard to return to the uncertainty of being a novice, and harder still to return to the perceived low status.

The 20th-century factory was a rough place for novices.  And factory-model schools are designed to “prepare” students for a factory world.  Within them, we teachers and administrators have the coveted role of supervisor –  not a role you’ll voluntarily surrender.

Maybe issues of status contribute the slow rate of change in schools, too!  Once you’re an expert, that status becomes very important to you, and any change that threatens your expertise is a change that you’ll tend to resist.

I think a lot of the pain that educators are feeling is related to status, too. When our expertise is threatened or dismissed, our beloved structures assailed, it’s only natural to cling tightly to familiar things.  I wrote a bit about the “pain test” for 20th-century textbooks over the weekend, and I’ll be writing about the “pain test” for school structures in the next few days. In that upcoming post, I need to say more about how the pain of change encourages people to hold on, even when they know the “old thing” isn’t working anymore.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the relationship between pain and punishment.  That may be the theme for this week’s posts.  Obviously punishment involves inflicting physical or emotional pain, but that won’t be my focus.  When we’re quick to reach for punishment as a deterrent, especially when it’s been proven not to work, there’s usually something going on inside the punisher. That something is often related to pain, and that’s what I want to explore.

I’ve certainly seen the pain-punishment connection in myself when I feel angry and vindictive.  Anger and punishment are ways to hide from pain – but what is the pain about?  And why would I want to hide from pain, anyway?

And to what extent does this connection ring true in your life and experience?

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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Published in: on September 24, 2012 at 9:56 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] the Google+ thread that grew out of yesterday’s post, my Personal Learning Network raised enough issues for dozens of blog posts.  Debbie noted, […]

  2. […] since the pain-punishment cycle seems to be built into the very structure of factory-model schools (I’m thinking about Debbie’s point about the effects of time urgency), there’s […]

  3. […] from readers have moved this week’s posts in unexpected directions.  When I drafted Monday’s post, I expected a day of introduction, a day on connections between pain-punishment and schools’ […]

  4. […] connections between pain and punishment and anger in factory-model schools which you can find here if you’re […]


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