Someone recently recommended a book to me, a book (he said) called The Dandelion Effect. Now, to be fair, there’s a lot of interesting information to be found about the effects of dandelions when you do a Google search, especially if you look for “dandelion social entrepreneurship.” But the book, as it turns out, is called The Dragonfly Effect. I’ve looked at the free Kindle preview but haven’t had time to do more.
Maybe a joyful learning community will create a book (or a transmedia experience) called The Dandelion Effect someday! But in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about dragonflies and dandelions, both of which I’m quite fond of. What do they both symbolize, and what messages do they have for builders and sustainers of joyful learning communities in transitional times?
When I think of my childhood, I often think of my dad’s war against the dandelions that, from his perspective, “infested” the lawn of the house where I grew up. I’m not sure why he was so opposed to dandelions at the time; there were lots of other “weed-like flowers” that didn’t bother him, and dandelions have the virtue (at least from my perspective) of lovely yellow flowers that turn into lovely white seed pods … lots of fun for a child to play with on a warm summer day. But to my dad, they were weeds, and he refused to allow their presence on his front lawn. And he didn’t fight his battle with herbicides or other tools of 20th-century warfare; this was hand-to-hand combat, one dandelion at a time, digging them up and casting them aside. After a few years, I think he realized it was a futile fight, especially since the cast-aside dandelions did what dandelions do, spreading their seeds ever further across that green-but-yellow lawn. By the time I was a teenager, dandelions bloomed undisturbed in my father’s lawn.
As I remembered and smiled, I realized that much of the factory-school approach to students and families, especially the ones who get the “bad and lazy” or “problematic” label, resembles my father’s war against those dandelions. “Just write them up, and send in the paperwork,” That One Power said a while ago, “and I promise they’ll be dealt with.” And, in fact, there’s a long list of frequently tardy students scheduled to be “dealt with” tomorrow … by removing them from the classes they clearly don’t want to go to, putting them in a Special Place of Punishment together, and creating extra work for their teachers who will have to “make sure they have plenty of work to do.” They may be joined by a few students with chronic dress code issues; I’ve seen the list, but I’m not sure which offenses led to this particular attempt at pain and punishment. “I like the Special Place of Punishment,” X said to me a few years ago. “It’s quiet, and Ms. Q is nice but strict, and you can get your work done and do some reading.”
I think of those piles of dandelions, their seeds slowly sifting down onto what my dad firmly believed would soon be a “perfect,” dandelion-free lawn. And I think of dragonflies, the only insect (according to the book’s introduction) that can easily move itself in any given direction thanks to its unique wing structure. Faced with a factory-model onslaught, the equivalent of the herbicides or insecticides my family wouldn’t use, both dragonflies and dandelions adapt and grow stronger. Faced with a single-combat approach like the one my dad employed, they turn their adversaries’ efforts against them.
Or at least dandelions do. I don’t know anybody who wages war against dragonflies … except my cat when she gets the opportunity.
N and her friends have been “working on their video” for last week’s Minor Assessment … and, to be fair, they have done some work on the video. They’ve also managed to get behind in the reading they need to do for the next Minor Assessment, the one due by the end of this week. Today is the final preparation day for everybody on every level, with production and final assembly on Thursday; Friday is a snow makeup day, so those of us who are at school will be watching the videos and looking at the physical products. Will the struggling and avoiding groups be able to pull things together, or will they have an unpleasant time catching up over Spring Break?
And who is the dandelion here, and who is the dragonfly, and who (or what) is the chemicals or the little trowel my father used as his primary weapon? So much depends on your perspective. I’m sure N and the others see mean teachers and too much work as the dandelions springing up in their happy lawns of hanging out with friends, while Ms. X and Mr. Y see N and her friends as dandelions (or worse!) invading the beautiful green lawn of “the good kids” and “my curriculum,” As we work to build and sustain joyful learning communities in challenging times like this chilly Spring morning, how will we go about bridging those perspectives, bringing those dandelions and gardeners into some kind of dialogue? I wonder what new discoveries and insights await!