Steps and Setbacks, III

Tuesday was a discouraging day for several friends of mine.  Teacher-friends were worried about half-understood reports about our state’s new budget, which was promptly labeled as a “tragedy for public education” by Very Important People … and of course Very Important People are always right, aren’t they?  That’s one of the important, but implicit lessons you quickly absorb when you live and work in a factory-paradigm world.  “They” make the decisions, and “we” (or “you,” but oddly never “I”) “have to” implement them … or, perhaps, “just close my door” and wait until, inevitably, “this too shall pass.”

As I typed that last sentence, I heard it in the voice of my old friend and mentor M, without whom I might have fled from teaching when things got Really Hard two decades ago.  M was full of wisdom for “surviving,” for “making the day go by a little bit easier” in a factory-world … and her wisdom did help me survive, and more, in Schools As They Were.  For that and for her friendship, I’ll always be grateful.  I value the knowledge and skills I gained from knowing her, and the understandings of how factory-schools really work from the inside.  But there’s something about her mindset that troubles me.

Kris Nielsen, who isn’t From Here but spent a few years working Near Here, talks about it in this recent blog post.  He calls it fear and blames it mostly on “living in an anti-union state.”  And I’m sure there’s truth in his perspective.

But I’m not sure it’s the complete picture, either.  Just as I distrust the cries of “disaster”from one set of Powers That Be, “rescuing education” from the other, I’m skeptical of anyone’s claim that the picture is a simple one.  This piece by Peter DeWitt makes it clear that even where teachers’ unions are legal and strong, there’s still a culture of compliance and survival in a whole lot of schools and districts.  Perhaps “this too shall pass,” and until then, there will be helpful new, printable resources to follow.  Helpful new, printable tools for survival.

But survival is hardly an aspirational goal.  Even in the “good old days,” the ones my friends claim to remember when teachers were “revered” in These Parts, the focus was more often on survival than on greatness.  And that’s completely understandable when you feel threatened … which, of course, is exactly how factory-model systems are designed to make you feel.  If there’s a big risk, everything inside you is screaming at you to Make It Go Away, by flight, fight, or freezing.  And when you’re scared, it’s a lot easier to sell you the protection plan or that one more thing which just might reduce the threat level and the risk.

That’s what the Tire Guy tried to do on Monday … and I really don’t blame him.  Upselling is as old as commerce itself, and maybe, just maybe, something might happen to the two older tires.  But no, I didn’t spend the extra money, especially since I had spent the (considerably less) money on the road hazard protection plan when I bought them in the first place.

That survival mindset is interesting; it keeps us trapped in Things As They Are, keeps us from seeing all kinds of options that are outside of the Conventional Box.  I’ve been struggling with that myself as I think of stepping out of the factory-system: how will we eat and pay the bills in the short term?   All of the friends I described in Monday’s post were struggling, too, with the ways that Things As They Are blind us to things that might be.  So was a new acquaintance who’s desperately searching for the right educational environment for her child, but could only see existing alternatives.

I’m glad that Brendan keeps pushing me to look beyond What Is, with comments like this one:

he concept of “a structured community with some unschooling elements” has come to mind a number of times since I read this.

In particular, the idea of a “structured community” — what might that look like, short of a command-and-control model of structure?

In very general terms, some constraints can be identified — time, space, resources.  *Unstructured time* is important for creativity and growth, but totally unstructured time isn’t likely to be feasible in a structured community.

So, what does the structure look like?  Does it look different for different people within the community?  Who defines it?

How is the structure fixed, vs. open to change?  What’s the process for changing it?

I think all of these questions should considered with the idea that sources of funding on any large scale will demand accountability in some form.  And, participants within the ecosystem of these structured communities will likely push for some notion of fairness.

Here’s one way to frame that question: what’s the pathway for a young learner within this kind of structured community to go from being a “student” to being someone who’s running things, dictating structure, and most of all,getting paid?

Traditionally within education, that pathway is to graduate, go to college, get a teaching degree, and perhaps get even more credentials (M.Ed., for example.)  In a joyful learning community, where everyone is hopefully teaching and learning in some way, what would that process look like?

This gets to the question of what the criteria would be for hiring paid staff.  And that question gets into the question of what the structure would be with regard to paid staff — and the associated roles and responsibilities within the community.

This question can be considered within a single school, but it’s also a question to consider within a network of schools and even the broader ecosystem of education.

I have no answers yet, or at least no simple ones, but I’m grateful for the questions.  Just as I had to resist the blandishments of safety and security through replacing perfectly serviceable tires, do all of us builders and sustainers of joyful community have to resist the siren-song of Things As They Are, of fear and acquisition, of the familiar-but-hated factory routine?  In the hustle and bustle of daily routine, where will we find time to stop, breathe, and listen for alternatives?  And where will we find the strength and support to act wisely, decisively, but not rashly?

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Published in: on July 24, 2013 at 12:33 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] screen.  I’m working on answers to Brendan’s questions there, the ones I featured in yesterday’s post.  When they’re ready, but not “perfect,” I’ll share them here. […]


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