Thursday afternoon brought two small hiccups, or at least breaks in the “normal” summer routine. The Girl had promised to play the piano accompaniment for a friend’s audition, so she needed to get to the Right Place at the right time. That gave us a chance to talk, at least for a few minutes, just her and me. It’s been a busy summer for everyone. While The Boy likes to be around other people when he’s working, reading, or playing, The Girl often needs her space … especially when she’s trying to concentrate on the online German course she’s taking. Those fifteen minutes in the car felt like a gift … and yet another important thread woven into the complex fabric I keep examining this week. Yes, the Girl and The Boy are probably “school-proof” … and yes, they’ve both had their share of unpleasant experiences in factory-schools along the way. But I can’t forget the benefits that factory-schools brought them (and me) over the years, either. It isn’t a simple picture of old ways bad, new ways good. That kind of false simplicity is a key feature of the very paradigm I’m struggling to leave behind.
How do you honor the good in something without covering up its limitations and failures? And how do you honor the good in a structure when you have to leave?
“It’s not you,” people often say at the end of a relationship, “it’s me.” Or “I need my space.” Or “we used to be right for each other, but not anymore.” The other person rarely responds well to those canned, untruthful phrases … precisely because they’re canned and untruthful, and everybody knows it. How do you, truthfully but kindly, end a relationship with a 120-year-old paradigm, archetype, or structure anyway?
After I dropped the Girl off, it was time to take my signed Online Professional Development contract to the Relevant People. Now, in most organizations, you probably sign the contract before the work is done, but this is Week 6 of the six-week session. Since we instructors are paid an amount per enrolled student, he contracts can’t officially be processed until after the Drop Deadline at the end of Week 3 … and that happened to coincide with the end of the fiscal year and the Fourth of July holidays. So there I was, all but finished with the work, signing a contract that requires me to do … what I’ve already done. It’s hard not to see the irony.
And yet I can hear the factory-voices: “But you have to do it that way!” And within the confines of the factory-mindset, it’s true: what else would you do? There “has to” be a contract on file so the payments to instructors can be processed. If you pay them per enrolled student, you “can’t” calculate the contractual amount until after the drop deadline. But those pro forma contracts “can’t” take precedence over the “really important stuff” that “has to” happen at the end of the fiscal year. what else could you possibly do?
It all makes perfect sense in the factory paradigm. But what if that paradigm itself doesn’t make any sense?
We’ve had a lot of lively discussions on Google+ recently, about everything from Rafe Equith’s new book to a fascinating article comparing two very different “troubled” schools that “turned around.” On one recent thread, Brendan asked me a question I’ve been avoiding, but also pondering, since I read it. In the long term, I had said, I have a pretty clear picture of what I want to do, where I want to be, how I want to be spending my time … but the short-term picture is so unclear. What practical short-term steps should I take to get from the current state to the desired one? Brendan, who hasn’t been living inside my mind, understandably wanted me to clarify that future vision … and even though I’ve done that in lots of private documents, I didn’t want to respond right away. Not with a comment on that thread, and not even at the beginning of this post.
Maybe because those factory-voices start screaming about “nice safe job” and “nice stable organization,” about “good benefits” (not nearly as good as they were a decade ago) and ” nice stable pension” (Really? In an age when all kinds of organizations routinely default on those obligations?? Let’s not be ridiculous, factory-voices!). Maybe because of other voices about “not really good enough” or “just keep your head down,” about “just close my door” and “this too shall pass.” Sorry, Old Ms. X! You were a good friend and mentor in your time, but that time, too, has passed.
So, Brendan and others, here’s what I envision:
Picture a network of little joyful learning communities, maybe 120 young learners and their families in each, spreading and growing along the North Carolina – South Carolina border . and other places, too. Picture them bringing life and hope back to “abandoned and hopeless” downtown streets in little towns whose economies haven’t recovered from sixty or seventy years of economic change and neglect. Picture families, inspired by their children and in turn inspiring others, starting their own big or small dream businesses, with help and support from those joyful communities. Picture that network, and imagine me serving it in the catalyst role that brings me such joy. Now picture an online joyful community where all kinds of people come together, learning Latin and other useful-but-beautiful things as they create meaningful things and share them with each other. Picture some of those online participants working within factory-schools, making them ever less factory-like. Picture others working alongside, building alternate structures for learners and families who’ve been discarded and neglected by factory-structures. And picture online and face-to-face learning communities for teachers, where they discover how to build joyful community in their own environments.
That’s the broad-brush picture. Of course there are details, but I don’t want to overwhelm you … or me.
Now picture that somehow these three connecting enterprises generate enough income to support me and my family. Picture us, joyfully rehabilitating some lovely, but neglected old house in one of those small, neglected, but now revitalized little towns. Picture a joyful community of longtime residents and new arrivals, all sitting down together to eat food we grew and prepared together.
Picture that. Do you like the picture?
Because, builders and sustainers of joyful communities, that’s what I want. And I do picture it, so clearly … sometimes. Other times it seems like a distant, impossible dream, and I hear my own factory-paradigm side mocking the very notion.
What practical steps do I need to take today, tomorrow, next week, to bring the vision closer? What do I need to do to work toward team, place, and time to build the dream? And who wants to join the team, find the place, find the time, help make it happen?