Endings and Beginnings, III

On the first day of a new semester, I always welcome my new students – and welcome the returning ones back – to “the Latin Family.”  And I remind them that we are, or aspire to be, a joyful learning community that builds meaningful things together.  In this season of endings and beginnings, on this last day of classes before Winter Break, I’d been starting to think about those familiar words, the carefully-crafted first-day lessons that I’ve slowly polished over the years.  The ones that haven’t really changed that much, even though everything has changed around them.  We’ve moved from textbooks to online resources, from consumption to real creation, but “Latin Family” members from 2007, 2002, 1997, even 1992 would recognize the outlines of their first days if they sat in on a current first day.

They’d also recognize some aspects of last days like this one.  We’ve changed many details of the Saturnalia-themed story we used to read together, and we no longer play the Roman games with the walnuts.  After all, I had written the old story to accompany the old textbook, and I have so many students with nut allergies these days.  But the word-puzzle vocabulary review, the one where you rearrange the letters of the Latin sentence to make as many familiar Latin words as possible, is still there, and you still can – but don’t have to – do some additional Latin reading over a break, document your time, and use the results to replace missing reading-related activities from earlier.

Traditions are important, but they have to be living traditions.  Fossilized traditions are interesting, but dead – they belong to the re-enactors, not the community.

Routines are important – and family traditions are important, and so are community traditions.  Some of my colleagues, steeped in family traditions they’ve never examined, living all their lives in the same town where they grew up, may never have paused to think about that.  And they may not realize how different our students’ experiences are from theirs – the ones who live far away from family, are disconnected from relatives, spend most of their time in a virtual youth culture where traditions are very different.  How many don’t have a sense of family tradition or community tradition at all, and how many others have very different family traditions.

In a time of profound change, have the traditions and routines of the “Latin Family” been a much-needed anchor?  Or have some of then turned into unneeded, obsolete baggage?  Are they helping or hindering members of our small community?

I’m not sure … and I’m not sure why I’m not sure.

Communities, families, and traditions can be the foundation on which you build something wonderful.  And you can’t build something wonderful on a shaky, unstable foundation, as Debbie noted on G+ yesterday:

I am reminded of the Wisdom of one my co-workers from when I worked in social services. The agency was pushing workshops and education about discipline and behaviour management. All good stuff — except — as my co-worker said, “When parents are worried about putting food on the table and a roof overhead, these are the priority and they don’t have energy left for education and trying new techniques. We have to take care of their priorities first.”

Why is it that we try to keep stuffing “education” into students’ heads when they are overwhelmed with emotions about other issues. Wouldn’t it be more effective to deal with what is on the students’ minds and get that out of the way so that they can focus on the activities and learning within the class? Wouldn’t it be better to give them some time to debrief, to refocus, to de-stress, or whatever it is they need to cope with whatever their priorities are so that they can be present in the moment?

Debbie’s comment sparked a wonderful conversation about time and priorities and stress and building community through shared conversation.  As I read through it late Wednesday afternoon, I thought about L, who was so quiet, so disconnected, so sad in Latin I and II but has found friends and community this year.  “You know,” he said on Wednesday, “this is my favorite class now.”

And then I read this post and the blog post Paul refers to  … and I started to wonder about collaboration and cooperation in relation to our shared traditions.  He distinguishes these two near-synonyms like this:

When collaborating, people work together (co-labor) on a single shared goal.
Like an orchestra which follows a script everyone has agreed upon and each musician plays their part not for its own sake but to help make something bigger.

When cooperating, people perform together (co-operate) while working on selfish yet common goals.
The logic here is “If you help me I’ll help you” and it allows for the spontaneous kind of participation that fuels peer-to-peer systems and distributed networks. If an orchestra is the sound of collaboration, then a drum circle is the sound of cooperation.

And then I looked at Joachim’s graphic and Debbie’s graphic.  I thought about a “Cooperative Learning” workshop that was really about collaboration, and about old Latin Family traditions called Collaborative Acting and Collaborative Illustration that really are about a “single shared goal,” about a conversation I had with my friend,  a school band director, about how things have been changing (for the worse, he insists) in his world.

Is Industrial Age collaboration still important in a networked world?  In our relentless quest for co-laboring, are we actually preventing shared performance?  Are those “Latin Family” traditions and rituals helping us perform together, or are they forcing us to labor together?  And how can you build and sustain a joyful community when Ms. X and Mr. Y think it means do your assigned part, but their students think it means help me and I’ll help you?

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Published in: on December 20, 2012 at 11:31 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Inspiring… now reflecting… thank you.


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