The experience of being peeled, as someone helps you strip away the excuses and false voices that hold you back, isn’t pleasant at all. But like so many unpleasant, difficult things, you wouldn’t trade the results for anything. I left the house late Wednesday afternoon feeling lighter, happier, and “more me” than I had in months. I needed to do a few errands, get some lunch, spend some afternoon time at a bookstore cafe. There were books to browse, one of the new lightly caffeinated Refreshers to enjoy, much writing and thinking to do. That much I knew.
What I didn’t know was the rest of the story – how many other things would fall into place. The truly essential errand was to a local used bookstore, where I found a mint-condition copy of Who Moved My Cheese? Then came a lunch I’ve loved since childhood, with time to re-read Who Moved My Cheese? and ponder which of the four characters I’d become. I’m usually Sniff the mouse, who realizes when it’s time to move on but isn’t, perhaps, as fast (or bravely unfocused) as his friend Scurry. But in this process – this process of deciding, of moving on to the New Cheese in my personal and professional life – I’ve been much more like the “littlepeople” Hem and Haw. I hope I’m more like Haw, who finally realizes that the Old Cheese isn’t coming back and that there have been signs – lots of signs – that he’d ignored, signs like lesser amounts of Old Cheese each day, the slightly rancid taste, the mold. I hope I haven’t been too much like Hem, who sits stubbornly at the old Cheese Station and waits for “Them” to put the cheese back. I hope Ms. X, Mr. Y, and Hem have fun while they wait!
As I enjoyed my “Super Steak,” fries, and root beer, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear my name and see a recent student. That often happens. But I was surprised that it was K who greeted me. K took Latin I and II last year, achieving the good grades he sought with minimal effort and (at least as it seemed to me) minimal engagement in the Latin Family’s shared work. He read the stories and did the assignments, but he’d finish them as quickly as possible, aiming to multitask with Ms. X’s lengthy definition packet or some half-forbidden content on an “internet-capable device.” But there he was, happily greeting me, talking about how much he’d enjoyed his Latin experience.
When he and his friend had left, it struck me. For K, factory-schooling is all about doing the minimum but getting great grades. The factory-school process is effortless for him; he can get the grades without really engaging, so he does. He multi-tasks his way through every course, quietly and effortlessly exceeding the (pathetically minimal) standard we set for him. In Ginger Lewman’s amazing classification, he’s a Student, not a Coaster. But in Ginger’s terms, he isn’t a Learner … and a joyful learning community requires Learners, not Students or Coasters.
And yet K did enjoy his time in the Latin Family. Apparently it challenged and engaged him more than Ms. X’s packets or Mr. Y’s PowerPoint print-outs. When you’re used to 10 or 20 percent engagement, 30 or 40 percent must seem huge.
But it isn’t. It isn’t huge, it isn’t adequate, and – no matter what policies and procedures factory-schools put in place about rigor and engagement and responsible use – I’m pretty sure it isn’t going to change. There’s a structural expectation built in to factory-schools, with all their sorting, selecting, and labeling. If you’re sorted into the top group, the good students, the academically gifted, you’re not supposed to work hard. It’s supposed to be effortlessly easy … and that’s why so many Students and Coasters get angry at me. Because deep, authentic learning isn’t effortless like worksheet packets. Because effortful learning, no matter how joyful, makes Students and Coasters feel bad. As my old friend Mr. D used to say, it makes you look bad, at least if you’re looking with factory-school-trained eyes.
Debbie asked me a profound set of questions yesterday, in the middle of an amazing Google+ comment thread that I’d recommend to everyone. First, she brought up
the Pirate questions….what are your passions. Then, you either make a change re:bringing those passions into your current job or finding another job that would better fulfill the passions.
And then she asked,
What is your common thread? Where will you head next to learn more about it and to pass it along to others? What lies ahead for you to fine-tune your understanding and Wisdom… and how will you use it to contribute to the “Fire of Truth”?
Let’s see. My passions are pretty obvious: I love building joyful learning communities (or helping them form) and making meaningful things together with Learners and their families. Those passions don’t fit well with the factory-mindset. The more I try to bring them in, the more frustrating it is for me, my colleagues, my Students, and my Coasters.
What about the Learners? Or the Students and Coasters who become Learners? They’ve kept me working within (and around and sometimes against) the factory-system for the last two decades. But as factory-systems both harden and crumble, am I still doing more good than harm, even for them?
So … common threads, next steps, fine-tuning, and sharing. That’s where I need to focus my attention over the next few days and weeks. And I hope I’ve learned to trust the process – and the amazing joyful community we’ve created – enough to know that the answers and resources will come at the right time.
It’s a lot easier to leave the old Cheese Station when there’s a joyful community on the journey. But how do you know which direction to go? Or do you just Sniff and Scurry and trust the process?