One of the best things about factory-thinking – at least if you believe the publicity – is that someone else does the hard work for you. “All you have to do,” say the Powers, “is your job, and we’ll handle the rest.” No need to think too hard. No need to think at all, in fact; just put your (literal or metaphorical) head down and concentrate on the task at hand, the assigned task that the Powers gave you. Be a good little worker, and eventually, if you’re extra good, you might just get a reward. In the meantime, of course, there are lots of shiny things to buy, shiny new things (“new and improved!” just like the package says) to replace the old things you bought last year, and even some shiny experiences – special trips to specially packaged vacation destinations – to keep you amused, half-satisfied, and working hard the rest of the year. And then, if you just hold out long enough, you’ll get to the magical land of retirement, where you can do whatever you want, whenever you want to.
“How many years,” Ms. X asked fretfully, “until retirement?” It’s the time of year when annual retirement benefit statements come out, so Ms. X could have looked at her statement – but that would be hard. Or she could have called a retirement specialist or even attended one of the annual retirement conferences for teachers and state employees in our world. But, again, that would be hard. “As long as it’s still fun,” says my old friend Mr. V, “I don’t think I want to retire anyway. What would I do with myself all day anyway?” And Mr. V has worked, happily enough for the most part, for well over thirty years at a factory-system job that many people would dismiss or ignore.
Delayed gratification. Putting off until later what you’d like to do right now. Doing the unpleasant task now so that, at some point in the future, you can do the thing you’d really like to do. Whether you live in a factory-world or a world of joyful community, sometimes you have to do that. But if you fully embrace the factory paradigm, will that future point ever come? The statistics about early retirement are disturbing, especially for those of us who still expect to retire after “putting in our thirty years.”
As Mr. V says, “what would I do all day?” He’s a wise man, and he finds satisfaction in a job well done each day, in helping his friends and family, in building beautiful things for others “on the side.” He’s found a way to live in but not of the factory system, and for that I respect him profoundly. I also respect and value the joyful community in which we participate, a community made possible by, but not strictly limited to, the factory-system in which we both work. The system that, if it really worked as designed, would separate us into categories: certified staff and classified staff, good little teacher and hard-working custodian. People who might exchange pleasantries, but who certainly wouldn’t associate with each other or value each other, if the system really functioned the way it’s supposed to.
But people are stronger, more real, more important than systems, and Mr. V and I have been friends or close acquaintances for over a decade. He laughed at the “crazy room arrangement” with pod-groups of desks, and I made sure he could still do what he needed to do with the space. Across categories and divisions, across labels that divide, friendships form … and those friendships, too, are stronger, more real, more important than the factory-systems that would divide us into neat market segments and simple categories.
Was the factory paradigm always a lie? Was it, like so much else, a marketing technique to sell factory-jobs and factory-products? As James Altucher points out in his remarkable new book Choose Yourself, even the phrase “American Dream” is a marketing slogan, designed to sell houses and home mortgages. I love a catchy slogan as much as the next person, and as I type this sentence I find decades of slogans and jingles playing in my mind. But when the slogan and the reality aren’t congruent, when the appearance doesn’t match the reality, it won’t be too long before the pretty words collapse into dust.
On Google+ yesterday, Debbie asked a profound question:
As we step outside of the “old” be can get a better view of not only what the old looks like but also the possibilities for the new.
Conversations with those who are already in the “new”, those that want to also venture into the “new” as well as those who stay in the “old” helps us ALL to make a conscious assessment of what works and what doesn’t.
During a break, when there are no urgent pressures, is a great time to invite peers to identify what really works in their classroom and doesn’t, as well as what they would like to see changed in the larger organizational realm. Perhaps at this time of “ease” is the perfect time start planting the seeds of change — at least to start thinking about it.
And that led to a lively exchange about the notion (myth? lie? factory-reality?) of summer learning loss, and about ways one might spark a real conversation about organizational change and community even in the midst of factory-thinking. I was skeptical, or something, as you’ll see when you read the thread … but then a principal I know mentioned, in a Tweet, that 40 of his teachers were participating in a voluntary online book study this summer – and I never would have expected anyone to choose the book they’re using!
So I’m feeling an odd mix of hope and disillusionment as we continue to step into summer. And maybe it’s not so odd after all. To have real, realistic hope rather than a wishful fantasy, maybe it’s necessary to cast aside the illusions. What are the implications, I wonder, for all of us as teachers and learners, as participants in the factory-world, as builders and participants in a more real world of joyful community?