As I sat down to write today’s post, I realized it’s been a week since the Last Day. A week ago, I was still very much in a mindset of hurry up and wait, of good little teacher, of wait until told and don’t make too many waves, of scarcity and you might want to worry and all the other pieces of the factory worldview. Somehow, over the past week, those scales have started to fall from my eyes, and I find my perspective shifting.
That often happens in early summer. My summer schedule isn’t as busy as the one Emily describes in her post for today, but it’s very different from the daily factory feel of the school year. Different schedules, hectic or not, do provide a chance to think about things differently, to try on new perspectives, to use different lenses from the ones we typically wear. After a few years of contact lenses, my daughter has decided she wants to return to wearing glasses more of the time. As we prepare to pick up the new lenses (and new frames) today, it seems like a good time to reflect on the metaphorical lenses and frames I’ve used for the past few years, too. Do they still fit? Do they still help me see clearly? Do they still send the message I want them to send? Or is it time to try on a new set, to find the ones that best fit where I currently am?
On Monday, as we were eating those delicious Chinese noodles and writing curriculum documents, my World Language Curriculum Team colleagues and I talked briefly about one of our shared joys of teaching: the annual gift of a fresh start, of new students and new classes and a chance to try new things in new ways. While the factory announces new and improved products each year, if not more often, there’s an agricultural rhythm of planting and harvesting that emerges in the “traditional” school calendar. Not necessarily new and improved, but growing and changing … and there’s a deep wisdom, I think, in that rhythm, even though nineteenth-century rural schools followed a very different calendar, and even though many people have real concerns about “summer learning loss” and other potentially pernicious effects of long breaks.
But for good little teachers and good little students, those long breaks feel like a reward for a job well done. It’s a shared, undifferentiated reward, of course, the kind of reward that factory-systems both encourage and resent. Brendan put it this way on Google+ recently:
f you think about it, though, “good little teachers” aren’t supposed to expect special rewards. Rewards in life are a function of how many years you’ve given to adequate performance in a factory model role. You wouldn’t want things to be unfair, now, would you?
To switch tone, one thing that caught my attention is the development of local common assessments that may or not be used. This is one of the things Bill Gates and friends look at and say, “why?” Why not simplify things and have one common assessment and save everyone time and effort? Is Latin in NC really different from Latin in another state?
Of course, this question stirs up controversy, but even aside from the question of one-test-for-all, questions remain. Why not just buy an assessment from an assessment company? Or, sell your assessment to whoever appreciates its value more than your particular factory?
Of course, this does happen, through exchanges like Teachers Pay Teachers. It may or may not make sense in any particular case. But it raises questions about the primacy of the school district, vs. the primacy of either the teacher, or the federal education machine that provides a good deal of money to many states, and in turn expects results and accountability with its resources.
All this also leads to the question of the primacy of the individual learner. The datapoint-generators that make the work of educators possible. What’s their role in all this?
Once upon a time, it was simple, as was the role of the district-directed teacher. Be good. Be patient. Put in your time and do adequate work and everything will be worth it in the end.
But “our kids don’t believe that,” as Ken Robinson explains in Changing Education Paradigms. And, “they’re right not to, by the way… Particularly not if the route to it marginalizes most of the things you think are important about yourself.”
But those are exactly the things so many people bargain away for the sure rewards* of factory compliance.
(*Special attention sold separately. Fulfillment not included. Gold stars awarded in kindergarten only.)
Away from the factory, factory-rewards and factory-thinking start to seem faintly ridiculous. The unnaturalness, the silliness of it all! And yet, for us good little ones, it’s hard to change our perspectives, to try on those different lenses and frames. It’s as hard as the change Emily described in her post earlier this week: so hard, but so necessary. How can we builders and sustainers of Joyful Community invite others to begin to change? What will we do to encourage others to join in, to try to change, to let go of factory-fear and embrace the endless possibilities?