Finding Our Pace, V

Thursday wasn’t a zero-defect day, but it was a day when the clash of the two paradigms – of teaching factory and learning community – was almost palpable.  And it was a hard day for many students and teachers I know.  “I’m really, really tired,” people told me, “and stressed out because….” Because turned into a lengthy list: family conflicts, too much homework from Ms. X, issues with friends, problems with jobs, finding the right college, going at all.  Ms. X, bless her heart, probably dismissed students’ concerns with a “reminder” about how “lucky” young people are, how much worse things are in the “real world,” even as she fretfully pondered her own list of concerns.

I’m not sure how the stress and tension played out in factory-model classes like Ms. X’s.  But based on my students’ feelings and actions, I suspect some yelling and labeling and pain-punishment cycles.  Listening to one brief conversation, I was reminded that for many of my students, the cycles start at dawn and continue until bedtime.  B, E, and some friends were talking about their own families as they started to plan their story-creation product, which builds on the complicated, problematic family relationships in Tres Columnae Lectiō XV.

I don’t like to label other people, especially when I only hear one side , and when there are profound differences in cultural perspectives.  But given what B, E, and K experience at home, I’m unsurprised by their responses to authority at school.  When pain-punishment is all you know – when it’s presented as love – you naturally seek such  “love” from other authority figures.  Ms. X and Mr. Y will happily comply.  And it’s easy to win “love” from them: their emotional buttons are the same, their yelling and labeling sounds familiar.

Joyful community is a puzzle to B, E, N, B, and the others!  They’re intrigued by it, want to be part of it, move cautiously toward it.  But the lure of factory-ways is strong.

If you wanted a factory-day, Thursday in my Latin II classes would have been a bad place.  We started off with a self-paced “Make the Sentence” activity, designed not for surface compliance but for growth and self-assessment.  K and N managed to “miss” the downloadable key, the correction process, and the self-assessment in their factory-style haste for task completion.  The story-creation process was complex, too.  It starts with an exploration of Project ORBIS (to determine possible routes and time frames for a journey from Herculaneum to Mediolanum), and some Roman date converters (to develop an itinerary for the journey whose start and end are described in Lectiō XV, but whose details remain ambiguous).  Each group  chooses a day – or more – of their journey and writes about the adventures of that day; I’ve heard everything from cuttlefish-like sea monsters to pirates, dragons, and even some bandits who, when offered young Cnaeus Caelius for free, refuse to take him.

Wonderful stories from the groups who took ownership; disastrous wastes of time from the few who try to sit passively, to wait things out, to wear me down into giving them a worksheet or a multiple-choice test.  I know that B, C, and D hate worksheets and tests, and I know they do poorly in worksheet-focused classes.  But doing poorly – being a bad, lazy student – is a powerful label for them.  It’s a familiar, comfortable one, like the pain-punishment cycle that ensues (at school and at home) when they embrace the label and its requisite behaviors.  And that’s called “love” at home., too  Changing is hard, painful work … and factory-schooling has taught them that if it’s hard, there’s something wrong with you.  “This is supposed to be easy!” Some Ms. X certainly yelled.  “What’s wrong with you?  I taught you and re-taught you, and it’s right there in the textbook!  Failing is all your fault!”

And she probably added, silently or aloud, “But you’re going to make me look bad!”  Someone once suggested that I tell a particularly unpleasant, disengaged group not to “make me look bad” … and that Someone was surprised, even shocked, by my response.  “Looking bad” and “looking good” are secondary for me; I don’t want to make an impression that’s different from the daily reality of my classes.  When B, C, and the others do take steps toward joyful community, perhaps they’re attracted by the authenticity of community.  They get plenty of artificiality, even hypocrisy, when Ms. X thunders and threatens, “Don’t you dare make me look bad!”

Responding on Google+ to yesterday’s post, Debbie asked,

don’t you love doing self-awareness thinking? Trying to uncover underlying motivations and thoughts? It is so invigorating and inspirational when you peel back a layer and discover something you can let go of or work on changing. Love it.

Then she helped me understand something about Ms. C, something that’s bothered me – though I couldn’t put it into words – for all the years I’ve known her:

it sounds like she doesn’t have the opportunity to be flexible in her role. It sounds like her job is all about deadlines and “have to now” tasks. Perhaps she is what represents the factory-model for you, the very thing that you are struggling to let go of?

Ms. C’s job is all about inflexible deadlines and have to’s … because that’s how she wants and chooses it to be.  I know other folks with the same job who approach their work as a mission, a calling, an opportunity to make a difference.  Ms. C is just as much a prisoner of her factory-attitude as B, C, and their friends are of theirs.

How will I – how will we – keep strong, courageous, and focused in hard times?  How will we maintain the pace we set?  And how will we help the Ms. C’s, the Ms. X’s, and our factory-indoctrinated students leave the false “safety” of the factory and enter the scary, intriguing, hopeful new world of community?

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Published in: on February 1, 2013 at 11:18 am  Leave a Comment  

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