By a quirk of travel schedules and summer plans, everyone at the Monday Evening Book Group meeting last night was either a retiree or a teacher on summer vacation … and it “just so happened” that one main theme in our reading was taking time and being still. We all had a lot to say about that, about balancing action with stillness, work with rest. Since we all have strong interests in schools and education and in the needs of the upcoming generations, we talked about the connections between stillness and learning. “Schools have never been good at allowing time for stillness and thought,” I said, “and it seems to be getting worse.”
We talked about that … and about the importance of finding a routine that works for you, regardless of your circumstances. And we all had stories of imposed routines from On High. N, who’s a retired educator, told of a former principal who firmly believed that “those kids should be at 80% efficiency on Day 1.” There was too much to cover, of course, and not enough time for a gradual start. “Of course kids’ brains don’t work that way,” N said, but that didn’t matter to this person. “What do people see,” I asked, “when they look at 25 or 30 young people in a classroom? Do they see 25 or 30 unique and precious individuals like we do, or do they see an undifferentiated mass or a set of data points?” Or do they see bad, lazy ones who need to be punished till the bitter end, as One Local Power apparently did last week?
What you see makes a big difference! And there’s a deep connection between what you see and the routines you find, or make for yourself, or impose on others if you can. We had a lot to say about that at Book Group last night, too. N has been retired for a few years, but she’s still looking for balance between work and rest in a relatively new chapter of her life. B has been retired for quite a while, but she isn’t as physically strong as she used to be; the routine that worked well a few years ago has had to change, and she’s not entirely satisfied with the current version. But both of them have a strong sense of ownership and abundance … and as we talked Monday evening, and as I thought about the conversation later, I saw a vast difference between what they see and what the factory mindset encourages you to see.
“How long until you get to stay home?” my former colleague asked on Friday. Apparently They, whoever They are, are still very much in control of her world. It’s only by the possibly grudging permission of some external force that she “gets” to “stay home” at all … and staying home seems to be a scarce, precious, almost mystical thing in her eyes. Her heart doesn’t seem to be in it, though; as the retirement party ended, she gathered with a small group of other retirees and Old Veterans, whispering questions about whether the school had changed or was still rigorous like it used to be.
If you asked that group about finding a routine, I wonder what they’d say! I think of one member of that group in particular; she was always quite sure there was one right way to do things, one right path for graduates of the school to follow. “They need to go to this set of colleges!” she’d say from time to time. “They don’t need to be going to that set, or going far away from home. They need to stay close to their families!” Ms. H was absolutely sure she understood her students’ needs … and those needs turned out to be remarkably similar to Ms. H’s own needs when she was that age. She and her husband had made a good life for themselves, and she just knew that everybody else could do the same if they’d follow the same path.
That’s the thing about factory-thinking: it encourages the notion of a same path for all. If you don’t follow it, or if you can’t for some reason, factory-thinking sees you as inferior in some important ways. Ms. H’s replacement, Ms. D, encouraged students to find their own right paths, to look at colleges outside of Ms. H’s limited list, to think about whether they were ready to go to college and “take it seriously” at age eighteen or nineteen. But Ms. H? She was always sure … sure of the one routine and the one path for all. “If those kids won’t follow this set of steps,” she’d say in frustration on bad days, “they don’t need to come to This School.”
But finding a routine, like finding a life path, isn’t quite as simple as Ms. H still believes. Getting to stay home isn’t always a reward, and having to go to work isn’t necessarily a punishment. Too much to do and not enough time? Those are perspectives you choose, not hard-wired realities from which getting to stay home is the only escape. And if you look carefully, you can become part of a joyful learning community … and build amazing things together and share ownership of the process and choose a very different perspective.
When I woke up this morning, a friend had shared a particularly apt paraphrase of this Neil Gaiman quote. “People who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else,” it said, “learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” It’s just as true, I think, of finding new routines as it is of living in new places or making any other external change. Build a community, change from within, and watch the exterior changes fall into place when the time is right.
I wonder what other new insights and discoveries await us all today!