Seasons, Times, and Purposes II

The weekend before Christmas, I got some unexpected good news.  We’ve been seriously thinkingabout selling The Current House and buying something better-suited to the current seasons and times in my family’s life.  On Saturda,y we had a visit from a friend who’s now interested in buying The Current House.  If all goes well, we’ll be making a transition sometime early in 2013. So I spent Boxing Day driving around, looking at possibilities for The Next Place.

Houses, cars, furniture, miscellaneous “stuff.”  They all have seasons, times, and purposes in the lives of their owners.  The perfect house with a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old has grown a bit uncomfortable with a 15-year-old and an almost-11-year-old.  The perfect neighborhood, surrounded by trees and fields, is still nice – but the fields now sprout new subdivisions, not corn.  The “perfect” furniture wears out, and the “perfect” car when you’re young and single isn’t the “perfect” car for a growing family.  Back in 2007, my students were impressed with my (then) state-of-the-art Palm OS smartphone; today it would bring more laughter than admiration.

To be fair, our factory-consumer culture has increased the speed of the cycle of obsolescence.  But even in nature, things grow, then die, and new things emerge.  You have to know when to hold on – and when to let go and move on.

As seasons, times, and purposes change, our needs and wants change, too. Even if we don’t replace the stuff itself, we can replace (or change) our attitudes about it.  Factory-model economies are built around a cycle of craving, ubiquity, ennui, and replacement; a more healthy, organic cycle might involve appreciating, but holding loosely … knowing when to keep, when to discard, when to repair, when to replace.

What, then, should we keep from the factory-model school paradigm?  What should we discard, repair, replace?  The core paradigm  is certainly obsolete, as Seth Godin reminds us in this TedX talk.  (You’ve probably seen it, but take the time if you haven’t!  And think kind thoughts about the Education Revolution community on Google+ where it was reshared yesterday.)

Industrial-style school buildings are wearing out, too, and so is the “need” for uniform, teacher-centered learning tools.  All of a sudden, many voices question the need for everything from interactive whiteboards to those uncomfortable, ubiquitous “student desks.”

Thanks to my friends on Google+, I returned to Doug Johnson’s thoughtful piece about technology that schools should stop buying.  And that led, somehow, to a blog post where Shawn Cornally points out a distressing connection between the rigid time-bound class schedule and rigid, fear-based responses to grading and assessment:

As I stare out across the ocean of students I teach everyday, I wonder if their obsession with grades comes from an unexpected source: the way we schedule their classes. Perhaps clamoring for meaningless grades and inflated A’s is a side effect of the herd mentality present in schools and the schedules we use to create and maintain that mentality.

Maybe my students are worried about grades because they know their time is short. They get about an hour a day to think about a subject before they are shuttled off to yet another class with a cryptically planned lesson with equally puzzling assignments.

As we move deeper into post-industrial times, we often discover that pre-industrial things – things we or our predecessors had discarded as useless or worn out – suddenly take on a new life, a new significance.  There’s a new purpose, a new season, a new time for aspects of the one-room schoolhouse, for learning that isn’t textbook-based, for growing your own food and making your own stuff.  Part of the joyful learning community involves sorting out what to keep, what to discard, and what to fetch back from previous generations’ discard pile.

So we’ve started looking at old, pre-industrial houses, slightly challenging properties that might shine again with some time and attention.  And with the Tres Columnae Project – and the ways my students use Tres Columnae materials in class – we’ve been aiming to recapture pre-industrial forms of school where students helped and learned from each other as much as from That Authority Figure.  But the goal isn’t to abandon everything about 120 years of “progress” – that old house will get updated HVAC and electrical systems, if it needs them, and the classes use 21st-century technology as an integral part of community-building.

But how do you decide what to keep, what to alter, what to abandon, what to reclaim?  Everyone has an opinion, and it’s all too easy to talk past each other instead of listening and seeking to understand.

How, I asked yesterday,

an we build a joyful community – or any community at all – when fear and anger, the root of yelling and labeling, seem to rule the day? …. How can we find – or provide – more seasons and times for the purpose of noticing?

And Debbie pointed out that the answer might just be right in front of us:

Perhaps it is that welcoming time, the community forming time, including the time to “notice”, to “listen”, to put the Fire of Truth into action. Maybe it happens at the end of the class, at the end of a project, or perhaps as a re-focus during times of conflict.

Perhaps if we consciously and meaningfully include it in our program then we will develop the habit which can then transfer out into the larger community.

How can we build joyful community when there’s not a consensus about what to keep, what to remodel, what to discard?  Or is that even a reasonable question?  Does the joyful community actually emerge from the conversations, even the conflicts, about those important questions?

What do you think?

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Published in: on December 27, 2012 at 1:32 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Justin, We have to be willing to not just change but abandon programs and practices that hold us in thrall to the factory school model. Space matters. Tools matter. But, the key to learning transformation, not reform, is the teacher. Until we are ready to engage in deep study of what we know today about how people learn (neuroscience), consider the nature of young people living and connecting with others in a world without political or geographic boundaries (technology), and engage in self-examination that’s not designed to simply reinforce our status quo (pedagogical research), we will continue to see a widening gap between what young people need and desire as learners and what many educators “deliver” to them.

    As long as we defer deep learning exploration and advocacy for contemporary transformation of the learning environment to the superficial teaching paradigms of the business people and politicians who want to make a buck out of the public education coffers in the name of “reform”, we put ourselves at risk. We don’t live in a Gutenberg teaching world anymore, but many of us continue to perform as if we do.

    The good news is that educators have all the capability in the world to make the changes we need to make. Your posts remind me of that.

    • Pam, I’m always so glad to meet other educators with such a deep understanding of both the problems and the potential solutions that confront us as we leave the factory model behind. As you said, the key is that delicate, all-important relationship – or web of relationships – woven between teachers and their students. No one can standardize that, but it occurs to me that the quest for standardized relationships (like all the other standardized things we could develop) was the great false dream of the 20th century.

      It’s hard to wake up from a dream, especially when you get interrupted in the middle of a dream. But you can’t build community in a dream-world, can you?

      Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Slowing down and becoming evaluative about life is always a worthwhile choice. I think that is really the root of joy – recognizing the moment you are in and living it purposefully. These communities of joy don’t happen in spite of differences of opinion, but because we are able to recognize each other’s point of view and respect them (even if we don’t always agree on everything.)

    • Yes, I agree: the key to joy is, as you said, to recognize the moment, to accept both the happy parts and the painful parts, and to reach out to each other with respect and gratitude for the differences between us. Thanks for a great comment that really helped me clarify my understanding!

  3. […] 20th-century dream!  Responding to Pam’s comment on yesterday’s post, shortly after waking up from a dream myself, I realized something important about dreams. […]


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