E was feeling better – so much better – on Thursday. When we had a chance to talk, I could see she really appreciated my concern. She didn’t want to go into details, she said, but there had been “a thing,” and Wednesday was a really bad day. It was good to have E back with the “Latin Family!”
But the incident – and the behavioral messages I receive from E and her classmates, especially when they ignore and reject assignments – helped me realize something important. Sometimes my students don’t want to be part of a learning community, joyful or otherwise. For some, it’s a short-term thing: the effort seems too much, as it did for E, in the press of Other Stuff. For others, it’s longer-term: they’re so schooled to the factory model that authentic learning doesn’t appeal to them, or their personal styles lead them to prefer a different approach. That much had been evident, but the insight was new: I need to respect their stark choice, even though I don’t approve of it. They need a learning pathway that works for them, just as our joyful learning community members do.
It doesn’t have to be a permanent choice, either. For some, it varies day by day. Sometimes they need the community, but sometimes they just want a class. For a few, the trappings of factory-schooling that I find ugly – the teacher standing over you, insisting “you must do this now” – are so ingrained that they either like or at least need or crave them. “Have you noticed,” I asked two or three, “that when I stand right there and give you a personal invitation – to be quiet, to focus, to do the assignment – you do so, at least for a while? Do you really think life will give you personal invitations like that?” They had no answer … but their non-answer was an answer, wasn’t it? They do think so … or want to think so … or Ms. X has yelled and labeled for so long that they know no other way.
So, for a while, we’ll have Plan A and Plan B in the Latin II classes. We did something similar 11 years ago. It was my first year at the Current School, and my son was born at the end of the first semester. I took two weeks of leave, and day by day, with their actions, each class voted for Plan A or Plan B for the following day. Plan A was a joyful community model, with lots of collaboration and as much creation as we could handle or imagine. Plan B was silent and individual. In the beginning, there were a lot of Plan B days; it was hard to believe I meant it. But when I returned, almost everyone was voting for Plan A.
That was a rougher, starker choice than this. With a substitute teacher, the Plan A / Plan B choice had to be class-by-class. This time, it will be person-by-person, day-by-day.
Today is the Friday of Spring Spirit Week. There are many distracting choices of clothing, and a pep rally replaces the afternoon class. Within the “Latin Family,” there are choices, too – one that we made yesterday, others today. On Thursday, we were supposed to read the last two stories in Tres Columnae Lectio XXIII; after about twenty minutes, each group would be asked to create a Question Cube for either Fabula Longa II (where Lucius starts his crush on Lollia) or Fabula Longa III (where he awkwardly avoids talking about that with his best friend, Lollia’s brother). Then, on Friday, we’d exchange cubes, each group receiving questions about the story they didn’t write about, and start working on a Minor Assessment story.
To be fair, those who wrote questions about neither story will be answering questions about both – and since they said, with loud actions, that they couldn’t or wouldn’t be a learning community, they’ll be working individually. They’ll be using the laptop cart, since I’d reserved it anyway; if they misuse the technology, they’re choosing a paper-based, tech-free Monday. Meanwhile, those who did choose community will continue in community, exchanging Cubes and using them as designed.
Then comes another choice. Lectio XXIII breaks off in the middle – no awkward conversation about feelings, no visit to the thermae. Our second Minor Assessment is to create an excellent story that wraps up those loose ends. Plan A is our usual approach of joyful community and collaboration; Plan B starts out with pairs, since the task is long and complex, but can become an individual task, with or without technology, according to our choices. The Plan B choice for today is over, but you choose day by day.
To join a community is to accept its norms, to participate in its shared work, to build it up and not destroy it. Somehow, after more than a decade of factory-schooling, my Plan B choosers haven’t learned that – or have unlearned it.
Debbie’s Google+ comment helped clarify my thinking:
“The tool becomes the goal”… Perhaps it is part of the human experience that we become so focused on the how or the tools that we forget out original intention. Perhaps that is part of our human journey -to become aware and to develop the skills to stay true to intention (or to reassess and change the goal).
I think of politicians who forget that they are representing their constituents’ wishes;I think of law enforcement where the letter of the law takes priority over the welfare of the people and the needs of the situation; and I think of education where the curriculum and the grades are the focus, rather than the students.
Sometimes all it takes is someone pointing out that we have lost track of our intention and sometimes we are so wrapped up in the tools that we believe it and there is no turning back. Hopefully, in the case of education, we just need the reminder. Hopefully the push for change is the outcome of this realization that we have forgotten our intention.
I’ve been guilty of tool-goal confusion myself, I realized. Joyful learning community, for many of my students, is a tool – it’s the special thing that helps them learn Latin, “get the grades,” comply with school’s demands in an enjoyable way. If it isn’t enjoyable – joyful and freely chosen – it really isn’t a community at all. I’d love for J, U, E, and others to join in, I can’t force them or shame them into doing so. To invite them in, they need to be able to choose to be out. Not with Ms. X’s false out choice of “getting a zero” and “being bad and lazy,” but with the natural, Law of the Farm choice I’m hoping to provide.
I hope they choose to come in … but how could you build a community if people felt compelled to join?