When you live and work in a factory-world, it’s easy to believe that certain things should always happen. Friends and colleagues of mine are convinced that there should always be a “step raise” every year, because there “always” used to be one. There should “always” be a reward, in the form of extra pay, for earning advanced degrees in The Field, because that has “always” happened. And They, the Powers That Be from the local school office to the state legislature, should “revere” teachers (yes, I’ve seen and heard that word used many times in the past several months), because that’s “always” happened. After all, my friends say, teachers have “always” been professionals, just like doctors or lawyers or accountants.
A colleague of mine, who just retired a few years ago, was actually told she’d “have to” resign or be fired when she was pregnant with her first child, because that’s what “always” happened in those days. A dear friend, who died earlier this year, was personally involved in redefining teachers in our state as salaried rather than per diem employees, barely 50 years ago. Even sixty or seventy years ago, very few people thought of teaching as a life-long profession; it was something you did, for a while, when you were young. Especially if you were young, educated, and female, since it was one of the three available options for you.
Always can be a pretty short time. And for my friends still living in factory-world, conditions are changing rapidly … just as they changed, rapidly and irrevocably, for “good little workers” in industry after industry over the past 40 years. “We should all move,” said One Ms. X, to a Nearby State where They still “value” teachers, where there are still things like “step raises” and partial reimbursement for the supplies teachers purchase, out of pocket, for their students and their classrooms.
But That Ms. X isn’t going to move. Another Ms. X, retired and working part-time, keeps threatening that “this will be the year” when she finally stops teaching … but she keeps coming back. Young Ms. X, two or three of them, got pregnant last year and will be staying home with their babies, hoping for Better Times Ahead. A Certain Ms. X, who retired and promptly went to work at a Local Christian School, is … as happy as she’s ever been, I suppose. “It’s just like school used to be in the Good Old Days, twenty or thirty years ago,” she told me when I saw her … and perhaps she’s forgotten that I knew her then, listened to her anger about the “bad, lazy kids” in 1993, heard her laments for Even Better Old Days back then.
Those Good Old Days, I realize, are a lie. They’re a lie we tell ourselves, like the lie about Better Times Ahead that will, magically and effortlessly, appear if we just keep our heads down, close that door, do that worksheet, fill out that form. Factory-thinking, as Seth Godin keeps pointing out, reinforces those lies; the factory appeals because it’s a “safe” place, because They tell you what to do, because there’s a nice safe salary, good benefits, and the golden shining promise of Retirement and Better Times Ahead. And in the meantime there are things to buy, things to accumulate, things to replace, neighbors to compete with. And don’t forget the vacation you might just be able to take if you’re lucky!
It’s hard to let go of the factory-vision … hard, but necessary. My great-grandparents would have been puzzled, even repelled by it; earlier ancestors would have been horrified; my own future grandchildren and great-grandchildren will doubtless wonder how anyone could have believed such nonsense. While Ms. X and other friends shriek in anger and fear at the death of the factory, there’s an amazing consensus building about what schools and other learning environments might look like in a post-factory world. Check out this piece by Christopher Lehman, and compare it with this piece from Alex Hernandez. From very different starting points, they’re calling for something quite similar … and quite different from the re-animated Good Old Days that, for the past decade or so, were the goal of “No Excuses” charter schools and other initiatives to “reform” things for “those kids.”
Factory-thinking is a funny thing when you stop and think about it. It asks us to believe all kinds of amazing contradictions. “Everybody is just alike,” or at least should be treated that way … but Those People, the ones with less money and fewer opportunities than Us? They don’t “deserve” the shiny new toys We can buy, and perhaps They don’t”deserve” the same kinds of schools or educational opportunities. One tiny breath of fresh air, one small gust of truth or insight, and the whole thing crumbles.
Thanks to my friends at Walk Out Walk On, I now have a name for it: The Trembling. It’s what happens, what you feel, what you experience when you’ve started to walk out of the old ways of thinking, but you haven’t yet walked on all the way to the new thing. It’s what happens when you’re waiting for the team, place, and time to to be right. A scary place when you’re still half-living in the factory mindset, but a vital place in both senses of the word. Vital as in vitally important, and vital as in bringing, causing, or restoring life.
When you’re leaving something dead, it takes time to become fully alive. Or at least I hope it does, because I’m certainly in the Trembling as I write this post today.
What’s the next, trembling step, builders and sustainers of joyful community? And what supplies will we need for the unpredictable, but life-giving journey ahead?