Chasing the Deadline

E had promised me that she’d send me “all the missing stuff” from herself and her group before we saw each other on Tuesday … and sure enough, when I looked at Edmodo after the small Latin I class finished their final exam work, there were the assignments from E.  All of them.  Beautiful, and well done, and right on the deadline, just the way E and her friends always manage to do things.  I thought of a colleague who’d been quite upset earlier in the week; a huge, unexpected, last-minute task had appeared, and it had to be done by a Particular Time, and it was … but only a few minutes before the Particular Time.  My colleague had met the deadline, with time to spare, but was still upset and concerned about almost being late.

What is it with deadlines in factory-model schools?

“We have to prepare those bad, lazy kids for the Real World, where there are all kinds of deadlines.”  That’s Ms. X and Mr. Y’s argument in brief.  But what happens when you miss a deadline in that Real World?  Sometimes you miss out on an opportunity; for example, if you were planning to take the New School Creation MOOC this week, the registration deadline has passed … and you’ll have to wait till the next time the course is offered, and there’s a link to sign up for information about that.  If you forget to pay That Bill on its due date, That Company will probably charge you a late fee … and it might start calling or emailing to remind you.  Forgot to renew your driver’s license or vehicle registration?  It will cost a bit more, and you might face some other unpleasant consequences.  But even in Ms. X and Mr. Y’s “Real World,” life doesn’t actually end if you chase – or even miss – a deadline.

The world doesn’t even end if Ms. X and Mr. Y miss work deadlines as they often do.  “I got busy,” they’ll say, “and I forgot all about That Paperwork or That Email or That Process.”  Sometimes the Relevant Powers are annoyed, and sometimes they’re upset, and sometimes there might even be a pain-punishment cycle (or the threat of one) if it was a vitally important deadline.  But the world keeps turning, and life goes on pretty much as usual, even if one of those deadlines is missed.

But what happens if E (or A, B, C, D, or anybody else) misses a deadline in Ms. X’s class?  “I don’t give any credit for late assignments,” Ms. X sniffs proudly, “because I’m preparing those bad, lazy kids for the Real World Out There.”  Mr. Y might take something late, for half credit, because he’s “preparing those bad, lazy kids for college, and their professor isn’t going to take late work.”  One Ms. X, years ago, had a more immediate and instrumental reason: “It’s too much trouble,” she said, “going back through your gradebook and putting all that late stuff in.  I don’t have time for that nonsense; there’s too much to cover.”

E and her friends live in the Real World, the one Ms. X and Mr. Y claim to be “preparing” them for, and they’re perfectly aware of all kinds of deadlines.  They navigate through real and pretend deadlines all the time, and they do so quite skillfully.  And, like everyone, they have their own built-in developmental deadlines and start times, things they need to start or stop doing because of their own unique, internal clocks and timelines.  There are lots of things E, B, B, C, and U can’t do yet, and lots of things they’ve stopped doing because they long since outgrew them.  When the lines of ownership and responsibility are clear, they – and their classmates and friends, and young people everywhere – tend to do a pretty good job with deadlines.  And when you build and sustain a joyful learning community, it’s not that hard to work with the occasional external deadline, either.

I’d write more, but I need to leave a bit early for work – to buy some gas on the way and to allow some extra time for the dense fog this morning.  What deadlines are you facing, and how do you help yourself – and any learners you work with regularly – negotiate the maze of deadlines you encounter every day?

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Published in: on January 15, 2014 at 11:23 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. eerily prescient relationship to my day — or universal. I suspect the latter. even retired and 100% (doing rather too much) on my own schedule, I’m still always behind… admittedly not worried enough to wear or otherwise be attached to a timepiece…not for years


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