More Than Meets the Eye, IV

Though it was a cold, gray day in the morning – and a chilly, rainy, dark, wintry day by afternoon – Wednesday was as joyful and pleasant a day for my students and me as Tuesday had been challenging and painful.  I don’t think C, E, and their friends had magically developed executive function overnight, but they were much more focused, serious, and engaged Wednesday morning.  They focused on today’s stories, created questions about them to make up for the missing ones from yesterday, and started planning their response for the Minor Assessment we’ll be working on today.

What – if anything – did I do to help that happen?  Did I somehow provide them a human service (in Dr. Ralph Tyler’s language) they needed?  Was it something I said, did, didn’t say, didn’t do?  Was it that so many of my older students were out of class taking the ASVAB?  Was it because I’d been so candid about my disappointment on Tuesday … or because I told them I honestly didn’t know how to respond to what they’d done?

I’ll never know – but I was glad.  As Barry said in a Google+ response,

Joyful, high-functioning learning communities are rare and ephemeral experiences.

As rare and ephemeral, yet as tough and long-lasting, as the delicate flowers – the ones we often dismiss as weeds – growing in the edges of those straight-row fields and gardens that Ms. X and Mr. Y are busy fertilizing with carefully-calibrated doses of facts.  As rare and precious, but also common, as the beautiful patterns that show up on a dirty vessel left soaking for a while in a sink of soapy water.  All day long, wherever I turned, there were little signs of joyful community.  A faculty book-study group that’s meeting for food and conversation this afternoon.  A shared, gentle laugh over lunch at the memory of Ms. X, who always knew the One Right Way to do everything and loudly proclaimed it.  Fund-raiser night for my daughter’s school choir at a local restaurant, where teenagers and preschoolers played happily together.  An unexpected, affirming email from a friend.

“Is it metaphor week?” Debbie asked on Google+.  Maybe it is.  Yesterday I asked about metaphorical extension agents going out to persuade skeptical Farmer X and Farmer Y to abandon their straight-row planting (classrooms) and try the educational equivalent of contour farming.  But a paid, professional agent … that’s a very 20th-century notion, and if the agents aren’t careful, they can easily fall into the service provider mission mentality, too.  Debbie developed the metaphor:

Who will the change agents be? I’m envisioning the local farm supply store. Farmers hanging out at the counter, sharing their stories, successes, challenges, and strategies. Neighbours, peers, suggesting alternatives and pointing out possible problems.
I am envisioning the farmers shaking their heads as Farmer Joe stubbornly leaves the building still in the same old mind-set and then going back to their own farms knowing that they have to let go of the old ways that do not work. And I picture those farmers helping Farmer Joe when his times get tough, when he needs that helping hand to make ends meet, even though he is in the predicament because he hadn’t heeded the other farmers’ advice.
And I also envision the farmers shaking their heads after the government agents visit, showing them new-fangled farming tools and techniques, knowing that bells and whistles don’t make crops grow – nature does and the farmer’s job is to help nature do its thing.

And Mark, Brendan, and Troy raised such profound points that we’ll need at least one more blog post, maybe a whole series, to address them as they deserve.

As factory-model thinking, and factory-model institutions, slowly die around us, what are some of the right questions to ask ourselves and each other?  When you’re struggling for an answer, the problem is often with the question, isn’t it?  So … are we even asking right questions?  Or are we ready for the right questions yet?  Is it a time to stop asking, stop pressing, stop trying to “make the crops grow”?  Or is it even simple?  Rather than trying to control the process and the pace, do we just need to observe closely and respond in the moment, like that wise community of farmers in Debbie’s metaphor?

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Published in: on December 13, 2012 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment  

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