I can’t stop thinking about Ms. X’s theory from last week, where she blamed “those parents” because they “don’t make kids behave” and “don’t hold them accountable” and “treat them like adults, not kids.” A lengthy conversation on Saturday gave me some insights. When this post by Dan Russell showed up on Google+, his thoughts about search and questioning helped, too. And then there was this post by John Kellden, with its link to this remarkable post about shifting from pedagogy through andragogy to heutagogy. By Sunday evening, I was able to go quite a bit deeper into Ms. X’s perfect theory, to see what might be the deep-seated fear behind the angry rant.
I have a suspicion that Ms. X doesn’t feel like she’s treated like an adult in her work. They, the Powers That Be, “get to” be the adults, with offices and calendars and someone to answer the phone for them and all the other trappings of adulthood, network television style. Meanwhile, Ms. X is “stuck with the kids,” and periodically she’ll get “one of those emails” with a list of things to Start Doing or Stop Doing. If Ms. X doesn’t answer her own classroom phone, allows one of Those Kids to do it, she’ll get a not-so-gentle reminder that answering the phone is Her Job. Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y seems to live in terror that Somebody will “get upset” and Say Something. Immediate obedience to Directives and Policies: that’s what Ms. X and Mr. Y think their Various Powers expect. And in turn, that’s what they expect, think they expect, or think they should expect from their students.
So I guess Ms. X and Mr. Y feel like they’re being treated like children. No wonder they sometimes act childish! And no wonder they bitterly resent “those parents” who, in their view, treat their kids “like adults.” Whenever “those parents” don’t demand unquestioning obedience and immediate deference, whenever “they” encourage or even just permit “those kids” to question authority or “backtalk me,” as One Ms. X put it, Ms. X and Mr. Y are quite unconsciously reminded of their own response to (their perception of) Powers That Be. It must be really hard to feel like a child when you’re surrounded by young people, who (at least in your perception) get treated like adults.
No wonder poor N, T, and the others are confused! When I talk with them, I don’t get the impression they’re treated like adults at all. Some are ignored because their families are “too busy” with “bigger problems” … and sometimes the bigger problems are real, like a layoff or an impending move or a lengthy deployment for our many military families. Some are expected to perform perfectly, with pain-punishment threats in the background if Those Grades are unacceptably low from a parent’s perspective. A few are treated like adults because they’re not living with their parents at all. But very few live in a world of daily, sustained contact with supportive but challenging adults … and even fewer live in Ms. X and Mr. Y’s imagined, longed-for, impossible world of unquestioning obedience and immediate deference.
As I look back over two decades of working with young people, I can see my own shift from a mode of pedagogy (and power and control) through a form of andragogy (and paying attention to individual learners’ needs, while still trying to control the overall process and outcomes) to something like heutagogy (and “learning how to learn” and “self-direction,” to quote the Wikipedia article briefly). But Ms. X and Mr. Y can’t very well yield power and control when they don’t perceive they have power or control to yield. They’re stuck in a pedagogy mode; it’s telling that they often refer to “the children,” even when they teach high-school seniors who are legally adults. And they imagine College and Careers, the semi-mythical destinations to which they’ll be sending their students in a few years (or a few weeks, in the case of those seniors) as scary, hierarchy-driven places where the Powers That Be expect even more unquestioning obedience and even more immediate deference.
Never mind their actual experiences with either College or Career, or any of countless articles and studies about such things. This has nothing to do with evidence and everything to do with terror … terror like that of a mom I heard about this weekend, who’s absolutely convinced that They would come and arrest her (and her family) if she allowed her children to follow an unstructured homeschool program. Less than a second with Google, as Dan Russell suggests, would lead to regulations from Their State that disprove her stated concern … but that concern isn’t the point at all, and rational evidence and arguments don’t make headway against terror. For the mom in question, and for so many others, it’s probably the terror of not being needed anymore … and is it that for Ms. X and Mr. Y too? If “those kids” can find All The Information online, instantly, with “those cell phones,” what role remains for Ms. X and Mr. Y, the (former) keepers and dispensers of information? How long will it be before They, the Powers That Be, decide to save money and get rid of the surplus?
I’m sure the terror was similar, maybe greater, when writing was invented, and when the hand-copied scroll and codex gave way to the printed book. Every advance in the dissemination of information makes information keepers nervous, but every advance has led to a need for more and different kinds of teachers, not less. As we continue to build and sustain joyful learning communities on small and large scales, it’s important to go deeper, to look beyond the obvious, to see and acknowledge and seek to understand the fear and anger and other negative responses. I wonder what unlikely allies we’ll all discover as we seek to do that today!