Hanging On and Letting Go

An email arrived midday yesterday, an invitation to a thing called Educator Wednesday in which, according to its organizers, hundreds or even thousands of teachers from These Parts will be descending on the state capitol and “to bring report cards for state policy makers.”  The email promised free snacks, drinks, and bus transportation; there’s free parking, too, if you want to drive.  It’s an election year, of course, and back in the Good Old Days, “when teachers were revered,” that would have meant grandiose promises about valuing education and The Children.  It typically would have brought a pay raise, too.

But the Good Old Days have been gone for quite a while, along with the Good Old Political Structure that dispensed the promises and largesse that Educator Wednesday participants want back.  Letting go of old patterns is hard, but hanging on to something that’s dead and buried?  That’s even harder, I think.

I won’t be going to Educator Wednesday, but I had to laugh at the absurdity of the report cards.  Ms. X and Mr. Y tend not to pay much attention to politics, but when they do, they’re bitterly opposed to the idea that They (legislators and other policy-makers, in this case) would dare to “grade Us” … because, according to Ms. X and Mr. Y, They couldn’t possibly “understand what it’s like in The Classroom.”  And yet Many A Ms. X and Mr. Y will merrily dispense these report cards to legislators today, even though, by the very same argument, none of Us can possibly “understand what it’s like in The Legislature.”

And no doubt they’ll be surprised when the threat of low grades doesn’t motivate some “bad, lazy ones” to work harder as Ms. X and Mr. Y define hard work.  After all, that’s “supposed to” work in The Classroom, so it’s “supposed to” work everywhere else!  When it doesn’t, it’s a lot easier to blame the “bad, lazy ones” than to take a hard look at your assumptions!  Letting go is hard and scary even when hanging on is clearly not working.

Factory-model thinking doesn’t always lead to terrible arrogance, but it’s easy to fall into the arrogance of expertise, to assume that everybody else is “supposed to” see the world the way you do, to see disagreement as badness and laziness or worse.  The blog post that sparked this lengthy, thoughtful Google+ discussion seemed, at least to me, to do just that: to assume that the 20th-century higher education model is (or should be) normative, and that any deviation from it is suspect at best, downright evil at worst.  And yet, as report after depressing report makes clear, hanging on to that system is less tenable every day.  Good old Ms. H, who firmly believed that the system was supposed to work the way it had when she was in college, retired a year or two ago … and I’m glad for her, because it would have distressed her to see how many of her students simply don’t believe what she firmly believes they’re supposed to believe: that you can (and should) go to a Pretty Good College, fairly close to home, and be set for life with a degree that leads to a Pretty Good Job.  (Ironically, Ms. H’s undergraduate degree has almost no connection to the work she did for All Those Years … but that’s different, of course!  The System is just supposed to work!)

I “just happened” to run into a former student and her family at lunch yesterday.  D homeschools her kids because she knows that The System wouldn’t be a good fit for them.  And then I “just happened” to run into a teacher-friend at the Local Bookstore a few hours later.  She and her husband send their child to an interesting, somewhat unusual local private school … because, again, they know that The System wouldn’t be a good fit for their interesting, somewhat unusual child.  My friend had been attending a Special Training Session this week, but it hadn’t lived up to her expectations.  “I’m going to give it another day,” she said, “but if it doesn’t get better, I doubt I’ll go back for the rest of it.”

I could hear the factory-voices start to scream: “But you have to!  What if the Powers That Be get upset?  What if it makes you look bad?  Just close your (metaphorical) door and wait; maybe you’ll get one good thing out of all that time!”  I’m sure she could hear those voices, too.  But holding on to a useless, even counterproductive experience … that’s unpleasant, even painful, and life is short and precious.  Sometimes holding on is actually more unpleasant, more painful, than the scary thought of letting go and doing something else.

So how do you choose, in the moment, between holding on and letting go?  It’s helpful to be part of a joyful learning community, a diverse group who can help you think things through and see alternatives you might not have considered.  It’s helpful to take time and get some perspective, to talk things over, to consider the possibilities.  It’s helpful not to be caught up in the daily factory-grind.

It’s been years since I stayed up past midnight to finish a book!  But I did last night.  I’d bought the book (a physical copy!) at the Local Bookstore a month or two ago, intending to read it when summer started.  I rarely read fiction during the school year, but I wanted to finish the series … even though I had another book by another favorite author waiting.  I’m glad I decided to let go of my typical reading routine!  I wonder what else I’m being called to let go of, what I’m being called to hang on to, and how all these threads will connect in the days and weeks to come.

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Published in: on June 18, 2014 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

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