During a long, rich Google Hangout conversation yesterday afternoon, one of the participants used and briefly defined the term third-culture kids – and it turned out that, to one degree or another, all five of us participants had grown up in a space between different worlds, with a home life (and home culture) significantly different from the culture (or cultures) that surrounded us. And all of us, to one degree or another, have continued to live between different worlds, seeking out places or people or life patterns very different from what They expected of people like Us.
It’s helpful to have that experience when you live and work in a military community, where so many people have spent so much time in so many different places. It’s helpful, because living between different worlds isn’t easy, especially when you’re a child. My own parents didn’t move around a lot after I was born, but the cultural and geographical space between them – and between the home-world they created and the local world we inhabited – was large. I learned so much, both as a child and as an adult, from the experience of navigating those spaces and disconnects … and I’m sure it made me a better, more sensitive teacher of another language, another culture, another time, as well as of increasingly diverse students who have different worlds of their own to navigate.
And if you’re a child, a preteen, or a teenager, you tend to navigate between different worlds even if your family has always lived right here. The world you expect – the one created for you by marketers who want to sell That Thing to you, and the one you and your friends and other young people around the world create for yourselves with the powerful tools available to you – is a very different place from the one your parents and teachers remember. They – we – grew up with a 20th-century mindset, expecting large institutions and limited choices, fairly slow change and predictable growth. There would “always” be big companies, big schools, big governmental structures around, and they’d “always” function the way they “always” had, we thought – and many of us still think that, or wish we could think that, or are angry because that changed and nobody asked our permission. The amount of choice grew exponentially in our lifetime, from three or four television channels to thirty or forty, then 300 or 400 – but a post-channel world, the one where you can watch what you want when you want it, where you can create what you want if no one else has and share it easily with ten or ten thousand others, is a very different place.
And I think that’s why the transition from factory-schools to learning communities is so hard at times. Nobody asked the stakeholders what they (we!) want from the Local School, and nobody clearly defined who the stakeholders are. With unclear lines of ownership and accountability, it’s only natural to turn to things that are easily measured … and to assume that the factory-management techniques that “always worked” in a 20th-century world should “always work” to “fix the problems” schools seem to have. Of course, nobody made sure we all defined the problems the same way, and nobody checked to see if those techniques actually “always worked,” or how long “always” has been, or anything like that.
So B, B, U, and the others – caught between different worlds of home and school, and between different worlds of clashing expectations in This Class or That Class – don’t know how to manage their own time and develop their own product, and B wonders why the undone piece of that old project had such a negative effect on The Grade, and P isn’t sure whether Ms. X will make her do all the work when she gets back from the family funeral, and the list could go on and on. But if you haven’t lived between different worlds, it’s only natural to assume that everybody thinks – and sees the world – the same way that you do. And it’s only natural to assume that, if they’re getting different (and inferior) results, they must be doing something wrong … and then it’s only natural to bring out the pain-punishment tools and the high-stakes measures and the other things that “always worked.”
As we work to build joyful learning communities and other post-factory structures, there’s an important role for folks who grew up between different worlds. Part of it involves interpreting one world’s words and actions to another, and another part involves just pointing out that people can and do see things differently, that This Word doesn’t have These Connotations everywhere you go. As the Latin Family continues to explore cultural practices and perspectives of the Romans that are increasingly different from what we think of as ours, interpretation and mindfulness of differences will be increasingly important for our small-scale work. And as we sustain and strengthen our joyful learning communities – and build new ones with the arrival of the new semester – interpretation and mindfulness will be important on a larger scale. And as all of us work to navigate between the different worlds we inhabit each day, those traits will be important on a large scale, too.
I wonder what new insights and discoveries await us today!