Monday, February 24, 2014

As I Lean Back in Josephine's Lawnchair: Design Work, Complexity and School

Please Come Back (M.A. Reilly, 2014, Newark NJ)
Today there's distance in my head. I have been recalling the conclusion to Thomas Friedman's column,  How To Get a Job at Google and thinking about learning and schooling as they are played out at places where I work. Friedman writes:
in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.

Each day as I work in inner city school classrooms, the space between Google's template for job hiring success and what gets dished up at school feels continents apart. Perhaps galaxies.

This past year two former teachers left classrooms to work with me in my company.  Each worked at a different public school. Each was considered highly successful, the type of teacher you'd most want for your own kid.  In the last week both have remarked that the work they have composed with teachers and principals since September marks the most significant intellectual work they have done in many years. One tells me:
With the daily mandates to do this or that, the endless scripts, and the control taken from me as a thinker,  I stopped wondering, thinking during the last 5 years I was a teacher. The work had changed so much from the beginning of my career.  My ideas were not valued, nor sought.
As we continue speaking, I realize that many of those Google 'soft skills', including permission to err are part of the work we now do, but interestingly was most often not part of the work required when teaching.  For each, there is considerable loss, not dissimilar to the pain Steve Kowit's captures in "Some Clouds."  Kowit's speaker laments:

I am busy watching things happen againthat happened a long time I lean back in Josephine's lawnchairunder a sky of incredible blue,broken - if that is the word for it - by a few billowing clouds,all white & unspeakably lovely,drifting out of one nothingness into another.

Like my colleagues, I too have felt a loss when I left college teaching to return to NJ to be a district administrator. The intellectual work, especially the design work that I had done as a professor and previously as an admin was significantly reduced and rarely valued.  Rather, my work more resembled that sad factory worker in Chaplin's Modern Times. I was caught in an input-output model.

So when teachers and admins pause do they not hear from the standards makers, the test makers: "Quit stalling. Get back to work."??

And perhaps that is the shame of all of this.  We have passed on complexity and seized an education that at best tangles every now and then with something slightly complicated--something far less human. We are missing the larger gestalt of learning in order to focus on narrow output of faux-academic success as measured by an endless repetition of similar school reading-writing and mathematics tests.

möbius strip of sorts.

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