A Stark Choice, III

At lunch time on Tuesday, Ms. M and Ms. L were talking in the hallway.  Ms. M is a wise veteran teacher, close to retirement; it’s Ms. L’s first real year as a teacher; and they’re as physically different as two people can be.  When I joined them, we certainly were an odd-looking little community.  But we had common ground and a shared concern: our students, after years of fact-cramming and test-score-focusing.  “Do you know,” Ms. L asked us, “what one student asked the other day?  She asked whether Egypt was real!”

I thought of Emily’s post and the I choose C video immediately and suggested they both watch the video.  But then, with a Ringing of the Bell, our moment of community ended.  Community can emerge in a factory, but if you aren’t careful, it easily dissipates.

My friends in Boston are still reeling, but they’re at that post-tragedy point where community bursts, strong and vibrant, through the factory-veneer of mind your business and don’t get involved.  I remember many such times – my adopted hometown coming together after Hurricane Fran,  a restaurant shooting,  a shooting at Fort Bragg that made national headlines … remember?  Do you remember those first few days after 9/11, when Americans set divisions aside and briefly become one very diverse, very wounded, very brave nation?

What happens?  Why does the community fade in the weeks and months after a tragedy?  And how can we – or should we –sustain it?

My students were receptive to the “Version B” minor assessment  Tuesday – and the groups who had done  “Version A” enjoyed not having to do “Version B.”  Near the end of the task – they read a story, answered comprehension questions, write a 1-2 sentence original ending, and wrote a brief commentary on Roman cultural products, practices, and perspectives they’d seen in the story – I noted that the rubric for Version A and Version B is the same.  O, who’s so thoughtful, looked at the rubric and said he’d learned something important: Version A is a lot more fun!  I think O, X, Y, and J will come through with a Version A for Minor Assessment 2.   They’ve discovered they need and value collaboration and community … and they discovered it, not because someone told them, but because, for a moment, they experienced the opposite.

Ironically, as I read the Version B responses after lunch, the scores matched almost perfectly with the pattern of Version A responses.  Despite some resistance and disconnection, they have developed their Interpretive Reading and Cultural Analysis skills, and their Presentational Writing is coming along.

To build community, do you need the experience of no community?

U and J tried hard – so hard – to resist Version B, but eventually they both read the story pretty well, wrote an ending (not a great one yet), and had something to say about cultural factors in the story.  Even U and J!  E just sat and stared at the paper, and S did, too … but S has a complicated family situation, and E was having a bad day.  B, U, and M “didn’t feel like it,” but they’ll come around when see the effect of that “feeling” on their current grades.  They’d been physically present when we talked about soldiers and doctors working even when they don’t feel like it … but, knowing B, U, and M, they didn’t feel like listening and engaging.  In the end, I suppose the lesson they learn about persistence, about digging yourself out of the hole you accidentally or deliberately dug for yourself, will be more valuable than a “perfect” performance.

Joyful community – and the Law of the Farm – can operate even mid-factory!  That gives both me and Debbie hope:

isn’t it interesting that when you peel back the layers of the factory-society that we find the humanity, the stories, the connections.
Yesterday, an act of despicable evilness resulted in a thousand stories of heroism, connectedness, and action.
We plant the seeds of humanity, we role-model the skills of connectedness and we keep on muddling through. And some day, whether the students are dealing with the chaos of schedule changes or devastating events, hopefully, the skills passed on will shine through!

And Emily, writing from Boston, added more hope:

As someone who lives in Boston, let’s just say that yesterday was terrifying.  And yet, there were amazing moments in the terror.  Strangers opened their homes, comforted and aided the wounded, and did anything in their power to help.

My point here is that community is there, even when we try to hide it.  The Factory has trained us to hide it, but in times like this, when the factory bubble breaks, community comes out.  The trick is making sure that it doesn’t go away when the factory bubble is restored.  Or that we never let the factory bubble return.

Diana, also in Boston, added even more:

After quite a bit of panic yesterday (I’m also a Boston resident!), we realized that we were a bit far out of the city to open our doors, but we put our names on the list anyway.  My friend Alissa, who lives IN Boston, put her name on the list right away, and actually got people.  Community is strong in times like this, and yet, there will always be those who wish to divide it.

What people need to remember is that the world, that life doesn’t stop.  We need to keep the community together all the way through.  How do we go about making that happen?

I don’t have an answer for any of these questions, but are the questions themselves the key?  When the factory-bubble breaks  – or when it seems invincibly strong – how do we keep community together?  How do we sustain it amidst the Ringing of the Bells, the Pressure to Produce, the press of Life As Usual?

Published in: on April 17, 2013 at 10:16 am  Leave a Comment  

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