The Turning of the Year, I

It’s the morning of New Year’s Eve as I sit down to write this post: a day that always seems to call for reflection and celebration. For the first time in a long time, we won’t all be together when the ball drops at midnight; my daughter has Plans with a group of friends. Years go by, children grow up, environments and situations change. I keep thinking about that, and about what you keep and what you discard during those changes, at this odd little time of the year.
It’s a time when so many people make resolutions: promises to themselves that they know they can’t keep, but still feel compelled to make. “I really will, this time,” we say to ourselves. “This will be the year that I stop doing That and start doing This.” Everyone has a different that and this, of course, but there are some predictable categories: unhealthy behaviors to stop, healthy ones to start. There’s something refreshing and exciting about that new number on the calendar, too, something that makes us hope this time will be different from all those other times.
On January 2, still tired from all the celebrations, students and teachers in my face-to-face teaching world head back to school … for seven “class days,” 4 days of exams, a “makeup day” when we’ll also meet our new second-semester classes and “hand out the syllabus and supply lists.” Then, right after the Martin Luther King Day holiday, those new classes start in earnest. By then many of those resolutions may be as stale and forgotten as the leftover New Year’s Eve snacks someone might find in the back of the refrigerator. “I really will,” someone is thinking, ” do all my homework in Ms. X’s class. I really won’t annoy Mr. Y by talking to my friends.” Or, on the other side of The Desk, “I’ll be nicer, kinder, more supportive of those bad, lazy children.” Or something. Resolutions made, resolutions broken.
I’m in the middle of Rod Baird’s new book Counterfeit Kids, which came strongly recommended by a friend of a friend – so strongly recommended that I bought it, right away, and am reading it in an e-book format. My students are far less advantaged than his, but I’ve seen a few examples of the College As Ultimate End, Justifying All Possible Means mindset he decries. Having not yet finished the book, I’m not sure whether he and I will agree on solutions for the problem or not, but the book is provocative and engaging and well-argued so far, at Location 428 in Nook format. He hasn’t used the phrase joyful learning community, but that’s what he seems to be calling for: a place, a structure, a classroom where learning happens for its own sake, not for instrumental and self-defeating purposes.
I guess I dislike some New Year’s resolutions because, like factory-model “teaching” and “learning,” they tend to be instrumental and self-defeating. I’ll lose that weight … so I look good on vacation, not so I can live a healthier life. I’ll do that homework … not because of any learning, but because Mom and Dad will stop yelling about grades and colleges, and so that Ms. X will stop yelling and labeling. I’ll try that new technique, set a new SMART goal, download a new worksheet packet or video “for the kids to do,” assign a “cute new activity,” not for deeper learning but because it’s shiny, new, flashy, attractive. And all too soon the new thing feels old, and it, too, gets discarded, probably with a bit of yelling and labeling along the way.
How can we move deeper, to lasting change that builds joyful community? How can we make those resolutions lasting, important, and real? And how can we help students, families, teachers, everybody step out ofinstrumental, self-defeating behaviors and mindsets and into authentic community?

Published in: on December 31, 2012 at 1:29 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi Justin! Thrilled to hear you are reading my father’s book, Counterfeit Kids! Thank you for reading. Would love to know who recommended it..thanks to them as well! We are actually in the process of building a web-based community ( with the mission to create an active conversation between parents, teachers, and students. The response has been overwhelmingly positive thus far. We aim to exchange ideas, thoughts, and experiences with the goal of combating the further evolution of “Counterfeit Kids.” It is the first community that really values all three groups and the response thus far has been incredibly positive. There are several sample chapters on the website that may give your readers a taste of the book as well. Would love to have you consider joining! Thanks again!
    Megan Baird Sutton

    • Hi Megan, and thanks so much! I’ve now finished my quick preliminary read of your dad’s book and am about to begin a slow, thoughtful re-read. I’m delighted to have found the book, to be in contact with you, and to have found the Counterfeit Kids site. All of a sudden, it seems, more and more people are noticing – or saying our loud and in print – the internal co traditions of the College As End That Justifies All Means paradigm, and that leaves me profoundly hopeful at the start of this new year. Have you seen my small attempts at designing a better approach?

      Oh, and give credit to Deven Black and Brendan Heidenreich for introducing me to the book … and to Lisa Nielsen for featuring your dad as a guest back in November.

      Happy New Year to all!

      • It sounds like you and I are very much swimming in the same circles!! A big thanks to Deven, Brendan, and Lisa! I really do feel so privileged to be part of such an inspirational group. I have been snooping around your blog a bit and I think it really is great food for thought. You hit the nail on the head with this idea of a “joyful learning community”. I myself largely only discovered this in graduate school. Why is that?

      • I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the blog … and glad to find other members of this interesting, passionate circle. It took me a long time to figure out the terminology of joyful learning community, though I guess I’ve been trying to build them with my students for the past 21 years.

        I’m not sure why it takes such a long time to figure this out – other than that it’s the exact opposite of the factory-model educational system. When you’ve been immersed in that, especially if you did well in it, it’s hard to imagine anything else. Does that make sense?

  2. […] to end Winter Break – I kept thinking about the  beginnings and endings I’d explored in Monday’s and Tuesday’s posts.  At a beginning and ending time, how can we decide what to keep, to […]

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