In my face-to-face teaching world, Thursday was Parent-Teacher Conference Day, a day closely connected to the rulesets and games and patron-client relationships we considered on Wednesday and Thursday. Part of the ruleset is that teachers ritually complain. “It’s so pointless,” someone must say, “because you never see the ones you need to see.”
In the Roman world, clients went to see their patrons for lots of reasons: cultural scripts, personal connections, mutual obligation, mutual need. But the ruleset of the interaction was clear to everyone: patrons dispense beneficia, clients receive them, clients do things for their patrons, the cycle repeats. Patrons needed their clients as much as clients needed their patrons.
And of course teachers and schools need parents and students … but that’s hard to admit. (Factories need workers and customers, too, but that’s not the message schools were designed to deliver.) It’s much easier to “admit” other people’s needs – “those parents” need to come to conferences, and “those kids” need to do the tasks they’re assigned, we say.
We don’t want to admit it’s really about our needs, so we blame “the ones” who apparently don’t know what they need.
Those “ones” include students who are not doing well – the ones with “bad grades” and “poor attitudes” and “problems with authority” – and the parents who “need” to make them “do right.” Why don’t “those” parents come? According to the script that many teachers recite half-believing, it’s because they’re “bad, lazy parents” who produced “bad, lazy kids” – because “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
If you’d been labeled as “bad and lazy,” why on earth would you come to a scary, unfamiliar place to hear someone say bad things about you and your child? No wonder “those” parents don’t come to Conference Day!
(Meanwhile, over on Google+, there was a fantastic discussion about rulesets and narratives and substitute teachers and observation and so many other things! Nice to come home to after a long day!)
Three families I saw on Thursday did fall into my “need to see” (or “really want to see”) category. But these were young people just starting to make significant efforts, to engage more deeply with our shared work. I was able to celebrate the new beginnings with them, give specific guidance about ways to sustain what they’ve started, and demonstrate that the “Latin Family” isn’t like “those” classes.
You know, the ones with “those bad, lazy teachers” who don’t understand, who label, who punish and threaten and flunk. The flip side of the scripted ritual of teachers’ complaints is the script of parents’ complaints.
Meanwhile, in other classrooms and schools, many a Ms. X and Mr. Y “gave out progress reports” and talked about “rigorous expectations” and “my policy on late work” and “why s/he got a zero.” Do “those teachers” love the factory-model script, or is it just the only one they know? Either way, when things aren’t working, they know just who to blame: “those bad lazy kids and their bad lazy parents.”
In a lengthy, eloquent comment on Monday, Brendan made this profound point:
This is one of the key things a mentor, teacher, therapist, preacher, or game provides — prompts to respond to in some manner.
The factory-model script has a lot of built-in prompts! Everyone but the “bad, lazy ones” knows you respond instantly. But in a post-factory world, we need new prompts – prompts that build up what Stephen Covey called “the space between stimulus and response.” Factory-model schools and social structures discourage that space and the creative, individual responses that flow from it, because that’s not what a factory needs.
“This links up,” Brendan added,
to @anarbitraryauthor’s comment about respect and authority, and question about relationships. In thinking about these things, I often think of the challenge of game-world designers and writers, who not only create the general narrative world that gamers interact with, but, in MOOG’s like World of Warcraft, tweak the rules on an ongoing bases, having to take into account the perspectives and experiences of many different kinds of players, including how changes can disrupt the position and status of various players.
These are also some of the challenges of governance in any form.
The Tres Columnae Project is a narrative game, but its rules are different from the “game of school.” Game designers know they need to tweak the rules, but when you work in a factory-model structure, you learn that The Rules have always been there, that they can’t be changed. And besides, we whine to ourselves, the rules are perfectly fine. The problem is those “bad, lazy” people (students, teachers, parents, name a group) who won’t follow them. And if we could just punish them hard enough, that would work … right?
Funny thing: the threat of punishment was always there, behind the scenes, in the Roman world … but the structures were designed so that punishments themselves were rare. Was that still true in my childhood, when people still felt the need factory schools were designed for? As the factory structure fails, as the threat of punishment ceases to deter, do we reach vainly for pain-punishment tools because they’re supposed to work? Or because we’re frustrated? Or out of habit or inertia?
How can we put the pain-punishment tools down for good?