Wrapping Things Up, V

How do you react to the first taste of freedom after a long, difficult captivity?  It’s sad that such a question would come to mind at the beginning of summer vacation – but for so many students and teachers, factory-schools do feel like captivity and vacations, temporary though they are, feel like a restoration of freedom.  That tension was apparent Wednesday afternoon, when the announcement came that no email “authorizing us to be released” had arrived.  It was more apparent as the afternoon hours passed, as colleagues half-jokingly started plotting escape attempts.  Ms. G paced restlessly; Mr. Z and Mr. N teased her about that; Ms. M and Mr. P and I looked on in amusement; a young colleague, who smokes but can’t do so on campus, twitched nervously in anticipation of his nicotine fix.

Then came the announcement of release, and in moments the parking lot emptied out.  Laden with leftover hot dogs and hamburgers from the end-of-year cookout, folks rushed to their cars and sped away … to freedom or something very much like it.

“What are your plans?” someone had asked me.  I had a definite one – to pick up that box of books I mentioned yesterday – and a tentative one of possibly doing some clothes shopping.  The definite plan did happen, but I  bought no clothes Wednesday evening, and I still haven’t used the gift cards some grateful students and families gave me.  I did manage to take the boxes – and the Chair of Power and the hand truck – out of the car on Thursday, but they’re all still sitting in the garage, waiting for a day when I have more energy and enthusiasm to tackle them.  For me, that first day of freedom involved some writing, some work with the online professional-development course I teach, conversations with friends, and – eventually – a quiet dinner out and a few brief errands.  Thursday was a brutally hot day, and then there were storms in the evening – and that combination didn’t exactly help me make or carry out ambitious plans.

And yet, as factory-school people, we want our students to have ambitious plans for the summer.  We simply must, we say, prevent summer learning loss.  And we’re sure we know how to do that: by keeping those kids learning during the lazy summer months.  And, if you’re a factory-school thinker, you just know that learning means doing worksheet packets and answering questions.  So younger students get summer math packets and summer reading questions to do, and older students get course-specific review packets.  Never mind the research on distributed practice; never mind the need to let old learning sink in deeply.  Never mind that their teachers, in many cases, won’t think about that content area for weeks.  You wouldn’t want those kids to get bad and lazy over the summer, Ms. X and her Powers think, and besides those parents “need to” be grateful because We gave Those Kids something to do. When you see yourself as the controller, the supervisor, the enforcer of the right process, it affects everything that you do.  Everything from Ms. X’s complaints about “doing the problems the Chapter Six way” to the ways we define and enforce student (and teacher) dress codes – it all flows logically from a world view where They (the “bad, lazy ones”) need Us (the “good, diligent ones”) to tell Them what to do, to enforce order on Their chaos.

Control and labeling.  Process for its own sake.  We talked about them yesterday in response to Emily’s blog post about dress codes, and the conversation continues in response to her second post in a series about “distractions” and the not-so-hidden messages we send when We try to prevent distractions for Them.

Is it really about Them?  Or is it about a side of Us that we don’t want to acknowledge?  Who actually gets “distracted,” and who really needs to be monitored for badness or laziness?

Responding to yesterday’s post on Google+, Debbie brought up four critical factors to consider:

Awareness … understanding that people have different ways of looking at the world, interacting with the world, learning about the world, contributing to the world, and interacting with others
Respecting … respecting people’s different ways of being, thinking, interacting
Self-awareness: knowing how “I” think, learn, interact, contribute, helps in so many ways: emotional management, seeking connections and knowledge, knowing when to speak up and when not to, and so on.

And of course we can’t forget the ever-present question of intention. We need to constantly be identifying our true intention and checking to see if our actions are matching it. If something is important enough to become a rule then it “should” be important enough to follow through on.

In an joyful community – the temporary one that my colleagues and I formed Wednesday afternoon, the more lasting one that I rejoined later that day, the ongoing one we’ve formed around our shared conversations here – awareness, respect, self-awareness, and intention are always important, whether we’re consciously addressing them or not.  They’re the keys to community, to friendship, to any kind of lasting relationship among people – and the more different we are from each other, the more important these factors become.  I had been thinking about replacing my rather beat-up cell phone, but decided to wait a week or so after I discovered my daughter would also be needing new glasses.  So far, so good – but then that decision triggered a host of old perspectives about worthiness and deserving – or not deserving – nice things.  And as those old perspectives took hold, I’m glad a good friend called me, called me out on them, and forced me to get to a place of self-awareness and intention.
Friends who know you well enough to do that.  A community that cares enough not to settle for the first, easy, superficial answer.  Structures that promote awareness, respect, self-awareness, and intention.  We need them, and when factory-structures fail, we need them more than ever.
What will we each do, today and every day, to make sure those structures are in place?  And how will we invite others – exhausted Ms. X , disheartened Mr. Y, terrified Powers clinging to their positional authority like shipwreck victims to a life preserver – to join the community, let go of what’s broken, and look more closely, but less judgmentally, at their own intentions and perspectives?
Published in: on June 14, 2013 at 1:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

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