When there’s a severe thunderstorm warning with “possible circular motion” in the clouds, the safety first call is pretty obvious … especially if you’re a Relevant Power responsible for other people’s children. So it wasn’t a surprise that we spent quite a while on Friday afternoon on the bottom floor of the school, prepared for a tornado that thankfully never formed. Sometimes safety first leads to truly obvious, no-brainer decisions like that. And even though Ms. X and Mr. Y were worried (and One Mr. Y was making threats and promises that even he must have recognized as faintly ridiculous), everybody emerged unscathed when the threat passed. And the advanced branch of the Latin Family had a remarkably productive day even though our time together was slightly shortened.
But as important as it is, safety first does invite us to ask what next? And that’s an area where, all too often, the answer isn’t as clear-cut as the obvious response to a potential tornado. How do you ensure safety for young learners in a world where menacing threats seem to be around every corner? How do you “keep kids safe on the Internet” when every new day brings a new site or app that could potentially harm feelings, reputations, or even someone’s life? How do you balance the need for safety with the equally important needs for freedom and exploration and learning?
In a factory-model school, the answers used to be simple. Powers That Be made those decisions, and their decisions were communicated, by policy directives or memos or intercom announcements, to potentially “bad and lazy” (or “just thoughtless”) teachers, students, and families. But that system of memos and directives never worked as well as the Relevant Powers hoped it would … and it doesn’t seem to be working at all in a world of hyper-abundant information. “I did This Thing,” said One Mr. Y quite a while ago, and he was proud of himself … and apparently he’d never gotten the memo that specifically stated This Thing was not to be done because it would “be confusing” for students and parents. “I’m using This App to communicate with students,” said Another Ms. X several years ago, at a time when it seems That Particular App was covered by a now-rescinded Important Directive governing the types of apps that could be used.
In a world where even Ms. X and Mr. Y, who are normally hyper-vigilant about “covering our butt” and at least appearing to follow memos and directives, can’t keep up with everything, what are teachers, students, families, and Powers That Be to do? When the factory-system, even on overdrive, can’t produce memos and directives fast enough to keep up with the pace of change, what can the factory-system do? Even in a joyful learning community, it’s sometimes hard to negotiate the competing claims of safety, freedom, and discovery, of stability and change, of novelty and reliability, as we work to build meaningful things together. But at least in a joyful community there’s an opportunity for conversations about these issues. I can’t imagine the amount of pressure that must confront folks with the Relevant Power roles and a factory-mindset as they try to make decisions without those kinds of conversations!
And I wonder what new discoveries and insights will emerge from our joyful community work today!