Building a Better Story

Years ago, when B and her friends complained that The Textbook was “flat and dead,” we started building a better story together, and the Tres Columnae Project is one result.  But “better” doesn’t mean “perfect,” and it certainly doesn’t mean finished for all time.  Better is a process, not a result; a journey, not a destination.  Mark reminded me about that with a recent Google+ comment:

But what if many and frequent platform changes is a key indicator of an individual or an organization’s progress and required to properly address their mission statement over time?

Mark also asked a really important question:

In your current position progress forward is dependent on multiplying your time. Instead of dealing with this web site chore, what might happen if you forced yourself to look for someone who enjoys and is proficient at this type of work. What if this currently unknown person coincidentally has a son or daughter and looking for an alternative to factory education. Find this person and you would share two things in common. Not to mention how meeting people and working one-to-one with people is something you are good at and have made a career based on this strength or yours.

As I thought about Mark’s question, I realized I’m actually doing two related tasks of building something better.  One of the tasks, the mechanical one of rebuilding the site, can and should be handed over to that currently unknown person as soon as I find him or her … especially when we get to the point of adding the quid novi explanations and some subscriber-only features.  I can do simple web-development work like that, but it’s not my passion … and unlike in the factory-school world, where The Teacher and The Student “have to” do a standardized set of tasks regardless of their skills and interests, there’s no formal or informal requirement of tasks that only I “have to” do.  By clinging to work that’s important, but not central to my particular skills and calling, I’m clinging to an outworn factory-mindset that I need to release.

So if you “just happen” to know (or be) someone interested in some fairly simple website-building work, please let me know.  It’s not the glamorous work of site design; it’s the mechanical process of adding posts, pages, menu items, and things like that.  If you’ve always wanted to learn some Latin, but never really had the chance, or if you know someone who would love to subscribe but can’t, we can talk about work for subscription access, too.

But the task of rebuilding the story is different.  As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve discovered a number of stories that we never published before, and I’ve also found some places where an additional Fabella or Fabula Longa would be helpful.  In some of those places, current Latin Family members can help with the creation … and in some cases, like previewing important new vocabulary, I want them to find a variety of approaches that will work for different kinds of learners.  Some of the “missing” stories need to be co-created, too; I rediscovered the joy of co-creating stories with the Latin Family at Former School last spring, and it’s a joy I’ve been glad to share with the District Y and District Q Latin Family this fall.

The Tres Columnae Project isn’t exactly like an open-source software community, but it has always run on open-source software.  And there are some important similarities between our joyful learning community organizational structure and the ways open-source development communities are structured.  Anyone can access our stories, and anyone (who subscribes) can contribute a story … but that doesn’t necessarily mean the new story will be published as is.  Like an open-source development community, we’ll see if the potential new story is a good fit or not.  Sometimes we make the decision together, and sometimes a smaller group (or a “group of one”) decides.

I was intrigued to discover that the WordPress community has a “buck stops here” approach.  There are countless plug-ins, themes, and extensions, and there’s a vast community of developers creating more of those all the time.  But the core product is more tightly controlled.  Perhaps that’s why WordPress feels like such a good fit for the newest (but not necessarily final) version of the Tres Columnae Project.  Like them, we have a lot of room for freedom in the development of new stories, new characters, and new storylines … but like them, we have tighter control over the core characters and story arc.

Tighter, but not so tight that things feel locked down.  If you look at the current version of Lectio Sexta, for example, you’ll see how community members’ responses to the “cow incident” have reshaped the story over time.  In early versions, it wasn’t clear whether the “cow incident” was reality or dream; the community decided it had to be a dream, and we responded with new stories (and additions to the older stories) that made the distinction between dream and reality much clearer.  “I really like Cnaeus,” J said to me last spring, and that surprised me because, in early versions of the stories, I really didn’t like Cnaeus very much.  But as J explained her reasoning, and as I thought about some stories about grown-up Cnaeus that we haven’t published yet, I understood her point … and I realized that the six main younger-generation characters (Lucius, Caius, Cnaeus, Valeria, Lollia, and Caeliola) are a community that can’t and shouldn’t be separated.  They balance each other, compensate for each other’s weaknesses, and work together in critically important ways, especially after their lives are turned upside down by the eruption of Vesuvius.

As we keep building better stories, it’s important to remember that stories shape communities, but communities also shape their stories as they build a commons together.  Stories unite, but they also divide, and sometimes they do both at once.  I wonder what else we’ll discover as we continue building better stories together.

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Published in: on November 7, 2014 at 4:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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