Wednesday, as everybody knew, was Graduation Day. But apparently some of the implications were lost on one graduate’s mother. It seems she called the school late Tuesday afternoon, wondering whether her child needed to report to school before the ceremony … and whether he needed to come back today, Friday, and Monday. Ms. L, who took the phone call, insists this story is true.
It’s also illuminating, I think, about the effects of factory-model thinking. The answer (“No, no, no, and no!”) could be found, of course, in a letter that went home to seniors and their families a few weeks ago – the long one with the logistical information about the graduation venue, and tickets, and dress, and all those things. But if you live in a factory-school world, you just know that written directions aren’t always true. Sometimes there’s a typo on The Test or The Directions. Sometimes Ms. X said one thing in The Syllabus, but she was in a hurry and really meant something else. Sometimes The Directions get changed because a Power is upset, or someone was “bad and lazy,” or an Even Higher Power reverses the original decision. Even when you know something ought to be true, it’s still better and safer to check anyway. That’s the factory mindset, and I’m guessing that’s why That Mom called Ms. L Tuesday afternoon.
Of course, there could also be a simpler reason. Maybe she was secretly hoping to have her now-grown child out of the house just a few more days. In any case, Ms. L was still laughing on Wednesday, and I needed a good laugh too.
Wednesday morning was a strange, quiet time, as graduation-day mornings tend to be for us. The ceremony itself was in mid-afternoon, and it’s the day after the Last Final Exam. So, if your sibling is graduating, you probably won’t come to school; if your friend is graduating, you probably won’t come to school; if you’re a musician or someone else participating in the ceremony, you might come to school just so you don’t have to deal with parking Over There at the venue; and if you can, you might just try to persuade your parents that graduation day is a good day to stay home. Two classes did meet in the morning, with a “required meeting” for juniors that, to be fair, many of them did actually come to school to attend. But then, around lunch time, all of us graduation participants ate first, while students staying at school were grouped in five or six classrooms, with Ms. X and Mr. Y resentfully watching them and showing movies … or something.
“I don’t get it!” said Ms. X when I dropped by to share the final version of the role-play scenario with my students who were staying. “I think I have more kids than I’m supposed to. Could you check and see how many of your students are here?”
Apparently, for Ms. X, it was just too complicated to attempt any of the standard forms of checking attendance. Call names and ask students to answer? Send a roll sheet around for them to sign? It was “easier,” it seems, to act helpless, to wait to be rescued by some Power or other. And, to be fair, I “helped her out” by checking on my own students, and then I “helped her out” when, for some reason, the speakers on the computer wouldn’t produce enough volume for That Movie.
It was such a contrast with both the Ceremony and the mid-morning class! Not many of us were there mid-morning, but we had a wonderful conversation about the role-play scenario. They made one so good that I had to share it with their early-morning-group friends, who were “getting babysat,” as she put it, by Ms. X. And we talked about games and favorite things to watch and read, about K’s friend in Europe who’s interested in the Tres Columnae stories, about N’s Roman outfit which she thinks is in storage somewhere. Somehow we managed to connect the Roman army’s inability to change tactics and strategies with the ways big 20th-century companies also eventually “fell” in conflicts with more nimble, more innovative foes. No grades, no labels, no pain-punishment cycles, no mindless entertainment to “keep them quiet” and “make the day go just a little more smoothly.” Just a respectful conversation among community members who value each other.
And the ceremony was beautiful, dignified, and happy. I “always” cry at graduations, but I didn’t cry on Wednesday. It was a joyful celebration – and it was great to see a constellation of alumni, from the Sheriff’s Department color guard member I taught so many years ago to the older siblings and friends who just graduated recently. So many rich connections … and so many rich connections on the Google+ thread where we’ve been discussing yesterday’s post! Sometimes it’s really hard to choose what to feature, what to omit, what to summarize, what to describe.
A week from today, if you’re reading “live,” it will be the first day of “real summer” for me and my colleagues. Students finish with a (very well-attended?) half-day on Monday, and then there are two “teacher workdays” on Tuesday and Wednesday. Some of those colleagues – and a good number of our students – spend their lives wishing and hoping for a future state: for Friday to come, for summer to arrive, for graduation, for retirement. And there’s nothing wrong – nothing at all – with anticipating future happiness. But sometimes, when I hear Ms. X longing for the weekend or the summer, I want to ask her how much she enjoyed the last one. “It was good,” she often says, or “It was OK, I guess. But it was too short, and now we’re stuck back here.”
I guess the factory-world is all about waiting, anticipation, and disappointment. It’s a great way to move product, if moving product is your goal. But it’s a terrible way to live, if living in authentic community is what you seek. How will things change as we leave those factory-ways behind?