A Stark Choice, I

Long-time readers know  I’m usually a big believer in the Via Media,  the Third Alternative, the creative synthesis of  things  usually seen as opposites.  But sometimes stark choices must be made.

This remarkable TEDx talk by Jerry Michalski presents some.

I think he sums up, in eighteen minutes, many conversations we’ve had in this space. But, as Debbie noted  on Google+,

you know what hit me as I started to watch this? We seem to be all talk and no action. There are so many videos and blogs out there about what is wrong with the system but where are the examples of what IS working? Why aren’t more people sharing their version of joyful communities? Are we so busy complaining about what is wrong that we just keep spinning our wheels in the old ways? Are those who have found a way to have a joyful community unaware that their stories are catalysts for change?

When I read your stories, Justin, those little tidbits of daily successes, I am inspired, hopeful, and motivated to join in the process of change.

We need more stories of “here’s what I am doing and it’s working” and not just descriptions of what we should be doing.

I’m glad my stories inspire you, Debbie!  Successes, not complaints.  Action, not just talk.  Not always – but sometimes – those are stark choices you have to make.

If you don’t have eighteen minutes, how about 3:30 for this video, which also sparked a G+ conversation?

Some choices really are stark, binary,  unavoidable.  You clean the bathroom … or you don’t.  You  answer the phone … or don’t.  You have, or put off, that difficult conversation.  You aim for graduates who “choose C” … or ones who think for themselves. You let the Old System continue unchanged, producing Choosers of C lost with “no one to think-pair-share with” … or you try to make change.

You do, or don’t do, work you’re called to.

Of course, If you look hard enough, you can find shades of gray even in stark, binary-seeming choices.  I cleaned part of the bathroom Saturday!  But stark choices – and  consequences – are on my mind.

For many of my students, the idea is a surprising, painful slap.  Ms. X and Mr. Y  talk about accountability and responsibility, about deadlines, Getting A Zero, Preparing For The Real World.  But  Ms. X gives extra-credit assignments to “bring up those horrible grades.”  Since there’s remediation –  sometimes retesting – before Scary Standardized Tests, you don’t really have to listen the first few times Ms. X yells about Stuff.  Low expectations, presented as high; rote activities labeled rigorous; smothering of independence, marketed as a discipline system.  After years in this contrafactual world, it’s hard to understand what Stephen Covey called the Law of the Farm.  Plants don’t grow faster with a motivational speech; nine women can’t have a baby in one month; and if you consistently play around, ignoring activities designed to help you master a new language, you won’t develop proficiency.

My Latin II classes are learning that lesson.  We started class Friday with a written, individual Progress Check – a diagnosis , I assured them, of how we’re doing with those new verb forms.  It was also a check of trust and mistrust, of the law of the farm in action.  Predictably, someone copied someone else’s paper; others circled random, impossible answers when responses needed to be constructed; a few “forgot” the assignment on the floor.  As we worked on the online Quaestiones et Responsa I described in Friday’s post and on our Minor Assessment stories, predictable numbers just didn’t,  just wouldn’t,  just couldn’t believe we’d really “do work” on a Friday.  A Friday, Mr. S!  What can you expect?

Do plants stop growing on Fridays?  Do clients and patients disappear?  Or enemies, if you’re a soldier?

Poor U and J!  It was Friday, after all, and they had actually worked on Thursday.  So they were talking about the field trip Social Studies classes are taking to this exhibit about Anne Frank.  U was looking forward to it – or to the change in routine – but J was  skeptical.  “Why are you even going?” she asked.  “Anne Frank has nothing to do with you.”

Was she thinking like the young woman in the “Choose C” video, who couldn’t imagine including math or science in her writing because those are “different subjects?”  Did she mean U’s history course doesn’t include World War II, so Anne Frank won’t be on the tests?  Has she decided the past is dead, irrelevant, and useless?  J is a very smart girl who got labeled “bad and lazy” early.  To defend herself, she’s learned, to perfection, to fake the “quiet lesson … of obedience, compliance, and dependence” (to quote Jerry Michalski around 1:20).  Don’t care too much, do too much, get too involved. Don’t seek joy,  flow, or connection.  No matter what happens, the bell will ring soon.

As Debbie said Friday,

poor ms X … Perhaps she needs attention, perhaps she has a fear of failure, perhaps she is behaving in the same way your students are – avoiding, blaming, etc .. Putting up the barriers.

Ms. X, like J and U, does what she must to survive until “the Ringing of the Bell,” as Powers That Be grandiosely intone.  Thursday morning, that Ringing happened 10 minutes early; someone had forgotten to switch back from advisory to regular.  My early-morning class, surprised, wondered what was up.  Just wait, I said, about 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 … and right on cue, the announcement came: “Teachers and students, please disregard that bell.”  It came soon enough to prevent another announcement I’ve heard: “Teachers, please check the hallways, corral any students out there, and send them back to class.”

How will we build a joyful learning community in places where everyone is obedient, dependent, and compliant with that Ringing and the world view it embodies? How do we invite Choosers of C to join the dance of joyful community?

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Published in: on April 15, 2013 at 9:46 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] Michalski, near the end of his TEDx talk I shared yesterday, sees promise in schools not founded on “the new OCD of obedience, compliance, and […]


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