I was surprised to discover that I’ve only written two other posts about the Fourth of July. There’s this one from 2010 and this one from 2013. I remembered my “length silence” in blogging, but had forgotten that it extended from January 2011 to late July 2012. Looking back on that time, though, and re-reading those two Independence Day posts, I realize that I was doing a lot of work on both independence and community-building.
In 2010, my thoughts were focused on the opportunities associated with freedom and independence. I made a long list of the opportunities that the Tres Columnae Project approach could provide to learners and teachers and school administrators, and I connected those opportunities with the overall theme of freedom. By 2013, my thoughts had turned to the important distinctions between freedom and independence, and to the role of interdependent communities in fostering personal independence. In 2010, I was still working in, and to a degree on the systems of Schools As They Are; by 2013, my focus had shifted to working next to, but not in conflict with those systems and structures.
It was a difficult, painful shift … and it mirrored my own journey of freedom, independence, and opportunity, and my own deeper participation in authentic learning communities. We’ve all come a long way in the past few years!
Back in 2010, I don’t think I’d really grasped how many people were being ill-served by factory-model schools. I knew there were some, of course, and I was beginning to suspect there might be a lot. But I was still pretty sure that some minor adjustments could make things better. Bolt on some creative collaboration, form a joyful learning community or two within the confines of a bell-driven schedule, stand back, and wait for magic to happen. To be fair, some magic did happen along the way; I can list dozens of Latin Family members who learned and grew and even found themselves transformed.
But by this time last year, I’d realized the limits of the minor adjustments within my power to make. No matter how hard you work to build and sustain a joyful learning community in a factory-model school, That Bell will ring when it rings and the community will scatter. A new group will arrive a few minutes later, and it’s overwhelmingly likely that they’ll arrive traumatized by Ms. X’s yelling and labeling or mentally deadened by Mr. Y’s PowerPoints and worksheet packets. Yes, joyful learning community is still possible, and yes, it’s better than more of the same would be … but at the same time, the very structure of the day and year will always stunt those joyful communities to some degree.
That’s the problem with an externally-imposed structure, one not freely chosen and embraced by its participants. And on Independence Day, that’s something to think about.
Self-governing, interdependent communities of independent, diverse people are hard! It’s a whole lot easier and safer to build large, impersonal structures that do things for and to us than to engage in the hard work of building those communities. But the folks who gathered in Philadelphia almost 240 years ago didn’t choose the easier, safer route … and for that I’m profoundly grateful. They didn’t build, or even aim for, perfection; even our current Constitution calls for a more perfect Union, not a perfect one … and for that I’m profoundly grateful, too.
And on this Independence Day, I hope we’ll all keep striving for more perfect rather than perfect, for joyful community rather than easy conformity, and for hard but rewarding rather than easier and safer. I wonder what new discoveries and insights await in the days and weeks to come!