A friend, close to retirement, was upset the other day. “My last year was supposed to be easy!” she said, but a whole bunch of things have kept that from happening. I’m sympathetic, and sorry for my contribution to the Whole Bunch of Things … but something about that notion, that idea that things are supposed to be easy, kept bothering me as I thought about it.
Where did that notion come from? Does it really match anyone’s experience of the world? And what are the implications of a belief that something is supposed to be easy?
On one level, it makes perfect sense. If you’re developing a finite skill set in a relatively unchanged environment, you’ll move through the steps of the Conscious Competence model and eventually reach unconscious competence, where things do feel effortless and easy. But when you work with people, especially with young people undergoing all the dramatic transitions of adolescence? When the Great Big Scary World Outside is constantly, rapidly changing? Are things really supposed to be easy in an environment like that?
This article from TeachThought “just happened” to show up in my Google+ stream on Thursday, and I loved the author’s point that academic disciplines and “content” are fundamentally “perspectives to make sense of the world.” As the world changes, and as our experiences change, those perspectives will probably change, too … but it’s hard to change a long-held perspective! Problems arise when we assume that our perspectives are the only perspectives, or when we assume that others (with different perspectives) are just being “bad and lazy” or “stubborn and difficult.” We’re quick to see patterns and apply labels, and that’s an important part of being human. But when the label seems more real than the thing we label, all sorts of problems arise. And I think one of them is this notion that things are supposed to be easy, or supposed to get easier over time.
“Those poor kids,” said Mr. Y, “are so bored from doing My Subject for two hours!” He needed a few more copies of the Great Big Worksheet Packet, so he’d come to pick those up. The Special Altered Schedule yesterday had been designed to allow seniors to take their Great Big Important State Tests, and the faculty had been “reminded” to use the longer class time for “review, remediation, enrichment, or whatever you want to call it” at more than one meeting over the last several weeks. Latin Family members say of Mr. Y that he “actually cares” and “actually teaches us stuff,” so I hesitate to label him or his comment … and besides, I know a few Latin Family members who were “so bored” after the extended time. We’d been working on our last set of collaboratively-created stories, but those require both creativity and application of the vocabulary and structures you’ve been learning all along. If you’ve spent the rest of your day (or the rest of your week, or most of your school-life) on worksheet packets and test preparation, creativity and application can seem hard and scary.
And that’s a problem when you’ve internalized the notion that things are supposed to be easy … or that they’re supposed to get easier as you move along the factory-school conveyor belt from kindergarten to high school, from K-12 to college. Or, for that matter, as you move up the ladder from “just a good little teacher” to various levels of Powers That Be. There’s something about factory-school thinking that encourages hierarchical thinking, too … and it’s an odd form of hierarchical thinking because things are supposed to be easier for “you” than for “the ones down there,” but “you” are also “supposed to” think that “your” work is harder and more important than the work of those “below.”
That’s why an article like this one is so refreshing and so surprising. Even the subtitle (“Lessons from Preschool Storytimes for College Classrooms”) upsets the neatly-ordered, half-unconscious thought patterns educators tend to develop. How could We learn from Them? Ms. X and Mr. Y “just know” that the “baby stuff” in Those Elementary Schools and Those Middle Schools is much less important than Their Subject. They “just know” that they’re the experts, and “those kids” are the novices, and they “just know” the transmission of knowledge is a one-way street.
Of course, they also “just know” the right way to transmit knowledge … and when the transmission is imperfect, or when the recipients tune out, they “just know” what the problem is. “The kids are so bad and lazy these days, and They don’t respect Us like they did in the Good Old Days.” And then comes the long list of gripes and complaints about parents and society, technology and Powers That Be, and all the other factors Ms. X and Mr. Y (and I, in my Mr. Y moments) like to blame.
But what if the whole static, hierarchical model is flawed or outdated? What if knowledge transmission isn’t a one-way street, and what if it isn’t even the point of teaching and learning in 2014? Ms. X and Mr. Y don’t want to think about that! It’s supposed to be easy, and it’s supposed to get easier, and when your whole world view is falling apart, it’s hard not be angry and resentful. On a busy Friday, at the end of a busy and sometimes frustrating week, I understand and sympathize with the desire for easy and easier! I wonder what role a joyful learning community can play in helping us transition from that model of easy and easier to a different, more grounded, more accurate model … but what does that model even look like?
I wonder what new discoveries and insights await us all today!