On Tuesday afternoon, just before the deadline to return grade verification forms, Ms. X came rushing down the hall toward Ms. B’s office, forms in hand. “I’m doing better!” she told me proudly. “I’m getting these things in on time so Ms. B won’t be annoyed at me!” This is the same Ms. X who, in total seriousness, advocated a no late work policy for students in a meeting barely a week ago … and what amazed me most, I think, is that she doesn’t see any contradiction between her words then and her actions now. She was completely serious both times, but both times it was hard for me not to laugh.
When you step out of the factory paradigm, even for a moment, its seriousness suddenly seems silly. And a good laugh, as a friend reminded me Monday evening, is really important for your health.
A friend had shared this really excellent MindShift post with me sometime last night, and when I woke up this morning and read it, I was struck by how silly the factory-school approach must seem to many of the young people (and their families) who get labeled as “bad and lazy.” Of course, if you still believe in a world of information scarcity, in a teacher who disseminates scarce information, and in rote recall as the best measure of your retention of scarce information, you won’t find the “bad and lazy” label silly at all. You’ll be upset, and you’ll try to change … or you’ll be upset, and you’ll angrily rebel. But if you reject the fundamental paradigm of information hoarding in a world where information overload is a serious problem, you’re more likely to laugh than to cry or yell.
And of course nothing makes an authority figure angrier than laughter in situations where crying or yelling are “supposed to” happen. “I just about saw red,” a Former Power told me a few years ago, “when That Kid started laughing in my office. Doesn’t he understand how serious this is?” I couldn’t verbalize it then, but if I ran into That Power somewhere now (and if we happened to talk about, or even remember, that incident), I think I’d say That Kid probably understood two things: how serious the incident was to you, and how foolish your seriousness seemed to him. The permanent record and the factory-model punishments seem huge and important from the inside, but from the outside?
We’ve been starting to plan a mythology and heroism unit for the upper-level Latin Family group, thanks to an excellent question from K the other day. “We touched on mythology briefly,” he said, “but do you think we could go into greater depth?” Of course, I said, and I started thinking about various authentic texts that would be readable and enjoyable for these Intermediate Low to Intermediate Mid readers, that would connect with the story sequence in Tres Columnae Lectiōnēs XXXII, XXXIII, and XXXIV for the Latin III group and XLV, XLVI, and (soon to be published) XLVII for the Latin IV’s. “What about Hercules?” I asked him first, thinking of the version of the Hercules myths in Hyginus as a starting point. And then I thought of adding in Theseus and Perseus and some other “heroic” heroes, and comparing them with the more-everyday heroism Pliny the Elder displays in his nephew’s accounts of the eruption of Vesuvius, passages that the Latin III groups normally read around this time and that the IV’s might enjoy re-reading. And of course, in the Tres Columnae sequences, grown-up Lucius, Caius, and Cnaeus are called into situations where personal desire and higher duty might be in conflict, and the AP-syllabus group will be reading selections from Books IV and VI of the Aeneid then.
K liked the idea but wanted to add in some non-Greco-Roman mythology. We talked about myths from various cultures, and at one point he said “Sometimes I wish it were true!” And after we talked about that for a while, I realized that Ms. X, Mr. Y, and That Former Power don’t just wish the 20th-century factory-myth were true; they still believe it, and they base their whole professional lives on the notion of information scarcity and knowledge transfer, of standardized students and recall as the measure of learning. That’s why they’re so serious … and it’s also why they sometimes seem so silly to those of us who operate from a different paradigm.
“We couldn’t do This One Thing,” someone said to me the other day, “because of Seat Time. And Those Powers have just got to understand that!” The Powers in Question, who are actually in charge of interpreting the seat time requirements and other such issues, probably have a greater understanding of the requirements than That Someone did, but from That Someone’s perspective, it was all perfectly clear. That Someone was also serious, completely and utterly serious, about something that even the Powers in Question would have found silly. Chaos, Someone felt, would surely follow if Those Powers allowed That One Thing! And over the past couple of decades, I’ve been That Someone a few times, and I’ve heard That Someone more times than I can count. And the seriousness of it all seems more and more silly the more I think about it.
“Imagine the consequences,” says Shawn McCusker in that MindShift piece,
for a school in transition where some classrooms operate under the old framework and others under the new. Consider the difficulty for individual teachers whose students might split their time between classes operating on different models. Difficulties could potentially arise in defining “good” student behavior as well as classroom expectations.
And every day, sometimes many times a day, I see those difficulties first-hand. Joyful learning communities are strong enough to sustain us through the transitions, but part of the joy surely is to embrace and celebrate both the seriousness and the silliness of it all. I wonder what else we’ll all embrace and discover today!