Wednesday was the Very Last Day of the school year. For my dear friend Ms. H, the school counselor, it was the Last Day of All. She’s retiring to spend time with her family and friends, to explore some new adventures. And we took time to celebrate her career – and all the students and teachers she touched in nearly three decades with the school district – at our annual end-of-year cookout. There were smiles and happy tears, laughter and stories – all the hallmarks of joyful community. It was great to meet the Famous Grandchildren, whose pictures I’ve seen and whose adventures I’ve heard so many times over the last several years.
I’d spent the morning moving those last few things around. There were a few last books that needed to be boxed up, and the Chair of Power (as it’s been nicknamed for so many years) needed to come home for a minor repair over the summer. But then there was time – time to read, time to think, time to reflect in a now-empty classroom. Two signatures remained on the All-Important Checkout Sheet, and when those were completed, there came a different gift of time.
If you haven’t worked in a factory-model school, you might not know about the hurry up and wait approach to those last few days. There’s never enough time … but then there’s too much time. There’s too much to do … and then nothing to do. Sometimes, if Great Powers think about it, there’s “that email” telling Lesser Powers that their staff can be “released” early if everything has been completed, and some Lesser Powers sometimes make that decision on their own. But at a school that tries to do things right, we wait for “that email” … and on Wednesday, “that email” never came.
So, after lunch, little groups – temporary gatherings that sometimes turned into joyful communities – began forming in various locations. I had stopped by the school office to turn in that All-Important Checklist and a Vitally Significant Item – an item we always used to turn in at the end of the year, but one which hadn’t been required in a while. Then, around lunchtime on Wednesday, it seems there was an emergency email from a Power, not requesting but requiring all schools to make sure that the Item (school-system identification badges) was collected from “all staff members” who wouldn’t be working in schools over the summer. Poor Mr. Y, who had left his at home, will be dropping it by the school today, and I’m sure many others, in many other schools, will as well. There was no explanation, of course, of why the Vitally Important Item needed to be collected, nor of why the decision was made so late in the school year. At some schools, whose “required day” was Tuesday rather than Wednesday, most of the faculty and staff were probably already gone for the summer.
Hurry up … and then wait. Too much to do … and then not enough. After the brief emergency with the Vitally Important Item. there were still two hours till the Official Release Time. I found myself in the school library, where an interesting group of three custodians and three teachers gathered to talk, to tease each other as longtime close acquaintances do, and to wait for any message of Official Release that might come. It wasn’t long before we had formed something very much like a joyful community, despite our many differences in age, status, and demographics. And eventually a message of Official Release arrived, and everyone headed home – or, in my case, to meet an old friend and pick up a gift from another old friend. And then, all of a sudden, it was summer … which is why this post is being published a bit later than it “normally” would be.
I’m still thinking about the various lenses that Brendan suggested to gain perspective on factory-style thinking and actions. They’re highly relevant to the Last Day of All, just as they are to the issues of dress codes and enforcement raised by this article and this one, which Emily discusses in her blog today. For the Powers who sent the one email – and didn’t send the longed-for one – the lens was probably
the factory model paradigm of people being “compliant or defiant” with their factory roles. When people don’t “comply,” friction is applied to Ms. X and Mr. Y’s factory roles. The same pattern repeats when Ms. X or Mr. Y don’t comply with directives from Powers, or expectations from students or parents that go beyond the expected factory routine.
And if you’re a Power – or anyone “just doing your job” and enforcing a policy, whether it’s about turning stuff in or release times or what kids can wear – it usually seems Just That Simple. Here’s the rule, and you either comply (and get labeled as “good”) or defy (and get punished, or labeled “bad and lazy,” or worse). Of course, it never is Just That Simple, as Soraya Chemaly points out in the piece that Emily refers to. But if you point that out – if you question the motivation behind The Policy – that, in itself, is defiant and bad and lazy from some Powers’ perspectives.
What about those other lenses Brendan suggested? The one of brain functions and personality types is intriguing, especially when you think about the personality types who are drawn to rule-based, algorithmic jobs and how they (we) perceive Those Others who see shades of gray where there “should be” only black and white. Brendan also points out another lens:
The cultural anthropology lens
Another way to think about all of this is through the lens of cultural anthropology. Teachers and students alike have been trained to adhere to the norms of factory culture, but this is a peculiar kind of culture, and one whose traditional way of life is being disrupted. Students receive mixed messages, not only within the context of school, like whether to attend the last day, but also about how they “should” think about themselves and the world by the broader culture.
For example, youth today, in the US and many other places, absorb messages of empowerment like never before in history. These messages indicate one should make one’s own judgments and not listen to what others say. Meanwhile, specific people, like parents and teachers, expect their judgments to carry weight backed by the very fabric of society itself. This is a profoundly mixed message, and one that invariably leads to inner conflict, or some reaction to it (like apathy, acting out, and alienation.)
What insights into the Last Day – and the conflicts over student dress and turning stuff in and release times – can we gain from that lens? And what about the other lenses, like the context collapse & multiple commenter lens or the other lenses Brendan mentioned? When you build joyful communities – or when they form spontaneously, like the one on Wednesday afternoon – it’s a lot more complicated than it first appears! How do we honor all the perspectives and help each other understand them? How do we bring all the lenses and perspectives together to help us all see more clearly?