Familiar Milestones

A long, hot Wednesday felt longer and hotter because it was the day for Student Government elections.  The first email with directions was relatively clear: each class would report to a different location to hear speeches from its particular candidates, and then everyone would return to normal locations to hear some other speeches and cast their ballots.  Then, right on schedule, came the flurry of last-minute changes and alterations, the kinds of things that drive Ms. X and Mr. Y to distraction.  This Group would have to watch the videos of speeches first, then go to This Location, because Another Group would need This Location first, because Yet Another Group needed to meet and no location was available.  It’s difficult to fit four separate groups into three locations … and while the senior class didn’t need to vote, they did need to meet to talk about graduation and the associated festivities and all the familiar milestones that lead to the end of a school year.  Today brings Awards Day, and many other milestones await in the next few weeks.

I didn’t see Ms. X or Mr. Y, but I can imagine the looks on their faces.  Ms. X and Mr. Y just know that it’s easy to plan for such things; after all, they turn in lesson plans every week.  And they follow them … or they think they do.  Every week … or almost every week … there was a not-so-gentle reminder email about “updating lesson plans” not that long ago, doubtless sent by a frustrated Power who, in turn, had to use those plans to satisfy a request from Higher Powers Yet.  “We spent hours,” someone said at a recent meeting, “developing this plan.  So if you don’t like it, please tell us specifically what we can do to change it, given This Factor and This Factor and This Factor.”  Knowing Ms. X and Mr. Y, they won’t make any specific suggestions for change; they’ll just complain and comply as Ms. X and Mr. Y always do.  That’s another familiar milestone on the path to the end of the school year.

“The school is too small,” One Ms. X said a few weeks ago, to give personal attention to everyone.   But it really doesn’t matter that much whether a school is large or small!  “Yes,” a Former Power used to say, “the school is smaller, but there are also fewer teachers and staff members than a larger school would have.  So the class sizes are about the same as they would be anywhere else.”  What I think he meant in context was that size, like many other external issues, is a lot less important than attitude.  If you have the attitude that you’re too small or too big, that you have too few resources or too much to do, you won’t try to meet “unusual” needs because you “just know” that you can’t.  If you’re conditioned to see interchangeable examples and labels rather than unique people when you look at twenty-five or thirty-five young people in a classroom, you’ll use worksheet packets and PowerPoints, threats and bribes, rows of desks and “cute little activities for them to do,” even if you treat your own children or grandchildren in a totally different way.  You’ll follow the familiar milestones because, from your perspective, they’re the only path you know.

“It’s still working for me,” Another Ms. X said, “and My Test Scores are really good, so why change?”

When I looked at them again yesterday, I could see that Ms. X and Mr. Y’s strategies for addressing the concerns from That Great Big Survey were all about the familiar milestones, too.  Make this one bigger, with consequences for the consequences.  Make this one smaller, with fewer special events per month.  Comply even more with this one, and make “the bad, lazy ones” comply more with that one.  Make it feel like a family for Us, but crack the whip over Them.  Ms. X and Mr. Y’s new strategies, which are just about the same as the old strategies, will probably yield just about the same results.  But “it’s still working for me,” they’ll say, “and My Test Scores aren’t that bad, so why change?  Besides, we need more computers and more training, more supplies and better Internet access, and those bad, lazy kids would just get in trouble and do something inappropriate anyway.”

An image comes to mind of deck chairs and the Titanic … but that’s really not a good image at all.  Crew members (and the band who kept playing as the ship sank) were dreadfully aware of their impending fate; that they followed routines under those circumstances was an act of noble courage.  Poor Ms. X and Mr. Y are convinced that nothing structural has changed around them; it’s just that The Kids are a bit more “bad and lazy” than usual, Those Parents a bit more “awful,” Society a bit more “terrible” and less inclined to “revere” teachers than in the Good Old Days.  They’re convinced that the familiar milestones have “always” been there and “always” will be.  But in the broad sweep of human history, those milestones are very new … and there’s no guaranteed future for large, factory-looking buildings filled with identically-treated young people, textbooks and notebooks in hand, being fed a diet of processed facts and canned procedures by a bunch of credentialed content distributors.

“There will always be schools,” Ms. X likes to say, and that may be true.  But will they look and feel like the ones she pictures?  “There will always be factories,” folks said a generation or two ago … and so far, they’re right.  But today’s manufacturing facilities don’t look like the ones in 1950, and what happened to the vast array of semi-skilled jobs you could get in 1950 or 1960 or even 1970?

Familiar milestones are important, but it’s also important to be aware of changes in the territory, to realize that no milestone will stand forever.  I wonder what new milestones and new discoveries this new day will reveal!

Published in: on May 22, 2014 at 10:42 am  Leave a Comment  

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