Enough to Do?

It’s a perfectly reasonable question, one I’d been asking myself as I thought about Z and Z’s Stupid Thing.  “Do they have enough to do?”  If you look at the schedule, you’ll see that Z and Z did have plenty to do: Tres Columnae Project stories from Lectio XLII and XLIII to read, preparations for a Minor Assessment product, and a continuing set of forms-creation and forms-analysis activities.  To be fair, Z and Z “did” a number of these assignments, and somewhat better, at times, than the half-hearted and half-engaged way that factory-school students “do work” for Ms. X and Mr. Y.  But in another sense, I’m wondering whether Z and Z did have enough to do, and whether that’s even the right question to ask.

For Ms. X and Mr. Y, it’s supposed to be simple.  “Their” assignments exist to be “done,” and to be “done” the way they specify.  One Ms. X and One Mr. Y were complaining about that Friday morning.  It seems that their students had found Some Website Or Other that would “give the answer,” so Ms. X and Mr. Y, to their credit, are asking their students how it got the answer.  Another Ms. X, a math teacher, has started asking her students how their calculators came up with “the answer” … although, honestly, that’s not such a great question, since human and machine approaches to calculation are different.  But even Ms. X, Ms. X, and Mr. Y are starting to think about process as well as “the answer,” and that’s surely a sign of progress.

For Z and Z, though, over the years, school has been about “doing work,” and I have a feeling that, at least some of the time, that meant turning something in and putting some right answers.  Those answers were all-important, especially on The Test, and Z and Z have always “tested pretty well.”  I suspect that over the years, with More Than One Ms. X who was frantic about “her” scores from the “bad, lazy kids,” that meant Z and Z were shoved aside and told to keep quiet and not bother Ms. X.  And at other times, quite likely, they got more “work” to do; they’d already finished the previous “work” and Ms. X wanted (or needed) to keep them quiet and not be bothered.

That’s an approach to keeping busy with some serious consequences.  It trains bright, capable young people to hate success, because success with That Ms. X means more of the same work, plus a suspicious glare or stare because, in That Ms. X’s paradigm, everybody should take the same amount of time.  It trains quick, capable minds to tune out and slow down, to give an appearance of compliance with Ms. X’s directions while pursuing an entirely different inner agenda.  In other words, it teaches you to lie, first to Ms. X and then to yourself.  It’s not a long journey from lying to Ms. X to lying to everybody, from tuning out inside to doing something outside.  We talk about building character, but factory-schools can encourage self-deception.  And that self-deception, in turn, can contribute to the appeal of the selfish, short-sighted, potentially dangerous, but fun-looking behaviors that ensnared Z and Z.

In the active Google+ thread about Z and Z, Brendan noted that

another valuable question to ask is, would these two see their action as justified, or no big deal, separate from reacting to unhappy authorities… Or would/do they look back and say “what were we doing?”

One big topic this raises is the question of the teen brain, which has received much attention in recent years. Are teens just immature, thoughtless risk-takers… or are there ways for them to develop other ways of being earlier on?


But, above all, I just wonder “why” in this particular case. Most actions probably have deeper explanations than “teenage folly,” or “humans are flawed,” or even “these people are bad,” after all. And looking for those details is one of the things that makes for good storytelling — and good story perception.

I can’t answer the question about Z and Z’s perceptions yet; the incident is still too close for us to talk about, and I want to wait till the Relevant Powers’ pain-punishment cycle is over in any case.  I also can’t speak directly to the teen brain issues, though I’m intrigued by them as well.  But Mark’s comment (which you should read in its entirety for its excellent treatment of trust and mentoring) made one thing crystal clear for me:

When trust is in question, relationships are almost impossible and the factory is based on distrust at each and every turn. Hall passes for restroom visits. Notes from doctors to prove there really was a doctor’s appointment. Mail the report card home instead of letting the student take it home. With this deep level of mistrust, judgements and labels are inevitable.

Keep them busy, we say, so they’ll stay out of trouble.  Make them prove that they’re busy … with the completed worksheet or, if Ms. X fears a “bad, lazy child” and the Internet, with a “thought process explanation” that can be graded for accuracy, too.  And depending on where you sit, in a classroom, school office, district office, or state legislative chamber, them can be anyone from “bad, lazy kids” to “bad, lazy teachers” to “the bad, lazy education profession.”

Joyful learning communities are built on trust, and in the long run, as Mark pointed out, trust is the only way to live.  On a cold, rainy Monday, at the start of a busy week, that’s an important reminder.  But how do we go about rebuilding trust in an environment that screams distrust in its very structure and design?  How do you balance opposing paradigms in an environment where both seem to be needed?

I wonder what new discoveries and insights await us all today!

Published in: on March 17, 2014 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  

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