“I have a Theory,” Mr. Y announced, “about Freshmen. But I need your advice.” So Mr. N and I stopped our conversation … or maybe I should say “continued to stop,” because we’d stopped when One Mr. Y walked in. We’d been talking about what to do when it seems that The System, on large and small scales, is doing more harm than the small amount of good we’re able to do. “I hate it,” Mr. N said, “and I don’t know why other people don’t see it.” He was just starting to wonder whether Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y was feeling general discontent, but attributing it to feeling abused by The System, when the door opened for One Mr. Y. Then the Other Mr. Y arrived with his Theory and question.
I’ve worked with That Particular Mr. Y for several years now, but I don’t know him that well. What I hear from students, though, is positive: he “cares” and “actually teaches” and “explains things.” Mr. Y hasn’t normally taught freshmen; that was Ms. F’s role until she left, but now Mr. Y and Ms. X have those classes. “I only have one class of them,” he said, “but I think they’re more dependent than usual. Even the Good Ones want to know if they’re Right Or Wrong right away, and They want You to Do The Work for them.”
One Mr. Y and I confirmed That Particular Mr. Y’s observation, at least as it applied to some current ninth-graders we know. I wondered if Mr. Y had the kind of Theory that attempts to explain an observation, but he didn’t. He just wanted confirmation of his observation, and then he had a copy job to pick up and Stuff to Do. But that phrase more dependent than usual seemed really important.
Mr. N and I didn’t resume our earlier conversation after that. But I’m glad we did partly resume the conversation that had sparked Thursday’s blog post. Like That Particular Mr. Y, who just wanted someone else to confirm his observation, I think Mr. N and I had both been hoping someone would confirm our observations. And when someone did, that was enough for a while.
In each branch of the Latin Family, there were a few members who still needed to finish their Major Assessment Individual Responses on Thursday. The rest of us were reading: Tres Columnae Lectio XIII for the beginners, Lectio XXVII for the intermediate group, and Caesar’s descriptions of the Druids and the animals in the Hercynian Forest for the upper-level group. N, T, and U ended up finishing a long-delayed video product, too. But before that, even though they aren’t ninth-graders, they too were being more dependent than usual. “Did you notice the assignment?” I asked, pointing to the written grammatical-analysis piece of the Major Assessment that we’d saved, at their request, to start the day on Thursday. “Did you notice the hard-copy set of stories?” I asked a bit later. “Remember, I still need to hear about eight Major Assessment Responses, so please pay attention to your volume level.”
Self-management, or executive function, used to be an important goal of factory-model schools. I remember, as a child, doing Various Important Tasks that, according to my teachers, would help Us Kids develop self-control and learn to follow directions and delay gratification. Those kinds of skills and attitudes were important for the mid-twentieth-century economy, of course, and that’s why we spent so much time on them. I have a hunch that the post-industrial economy calls for a different mix of them: much more of the self-starting, for example, and less of the Waiting Until Told. But executive function is important for the survival of both people and communities, and mid-adolescence, the place where N and the others are right now, is a time when real breakthroughs and developments tend to happen.
But N, T, U, and the others are more dependent than usual, even though they aren’t freshmen anymore. In the rush for High Test Scores, what Seth Godin calls “speedometer confusion,” it seems their Prior Schools had “not enough time” and “too much to cover” to help them learn self-control. “It’s easier,” Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y will say, “to make them shut up than to make them work together.” And it’s “easier” to fall back on PowerPoints and worksheet packets, or to “do some of it for them” as One Ms. X says she “has to” do this week. What about the long-term effects of those easier approaches? They won’t show up till Next Year, or Years From Now, and by then the “bad, lazy ones” will be in Somebody Else’s class or, if all goes well, a Different School. Meg’s Google+ share of this article about a recent “speedometer confusion” scandal led to a discussion of the causes and effects of those “easier” approaches, especially the effects on students and families who are led to believe that Everything is Just Fine when it isn’t.
If I have a chance, I’ll ask Mr. Y if he has an explanation for his Theory About Freshmen. I’m not sure if he thinks Things are Just Fine, or if “it is what it is,” or if he’s dissatisfied and looking for alternatives. But I know that students of mine like D and L, the “good kids” and “really good kids” who “do the work” and “do what they’re supposed to,” are frustrated by Business As Usual, and I know they don’t think Things are Just Fine at all. Our small Joyful Learning Community provides a bit of time and space for those kinds of conversations, and for that I’m deeply grateful. But I wonder how we can enlarge the circle, and I wonder what might happen if Ms. X and Mr. Y felt able and willing to share their perspectives and struggles. What will happen when we all get less dependent than usual?