Friday, October 21, 2011

Education for life?

Besides being an 8th grade English teacher, I'm an Adjunct Professor of International Relations at Troy University (the Joint Base Lewis-McChord branch).  I enjoy both jobs thoroughly, and the combination of the two even more than their sum total.  

I'm also struck by some frustrating similarities.  One thing that holding the two positions has revealed is just how consistent we are as human consistently irrational, short-sighted, selfish, etc.  What's clear is how well we develop the power to cover or hide this when we get older.

8th graders are guileless about acknowledging their likes and dislikes, and wildly transparent about their feints and deceptions.  I don't always know when something does happen, but I usually know that something has happened.  The stories of explanation are too one-sided, too implausible, and too urgent.

The bureaucratic life of 8th grade and university are both vexing, too.  In both, a lot of 'managers' spend time making the work of those below them more difficult, but without obvious rationale.  I have gotten several mandates from on high in both environments, and it's never been completely clear that the new procedures serve students better.  It is clear that money is part of the story, which makes sense, though the administrative drive to cut budgets or maximize revenues really can have a net negative impact on the   mission of the organization.

Not as far as the management types see it.  They've always got reasons for things, and those reasons make perfect sense to them.  So when the Troy administration in Colorado (our regional office) decides that all class structures will be Friday night and Saturday, instead of the weeknights that I had been doing, the need to make the live distance (teleconference class) elements smoother--for the management to operate, that is-- was the justification.  When I asked whether anybody had ever asked what the students preferred, the predictable answer was 'no.'  But without connecting the one or two students from the remote site to our local class of 7 or 8, that remote site would have to close down.  And the university will do everything possible to avoid that.  Apparently, Friday-Saturday packages are better for all this, though it's not clear to me why, and my informal poll of my current students showed a decided preference for weeknight classes over Friday-Saturday.

We undertake such rational decisions in our school district, too.  After 4 years of of time and energy invested in a web site service (for class web sites like this one) that teachers and parents have been enjoying, we're switching to a new company.  Vague promises of 'better' feel a bit dubious when I hear that the system isn't quite ready....We're going to be the beta-testers.  In the words of one junior management type who does some of our computer stuff, "It's going to be a nightmare." When I enquired about the rationale, I got that kind of strange assortment of this and that.  The kind of urgent and one-sided explanation that makes the whole thing seem implausible.  No individual element of the explanation makes sense on its own, but together they seem, at least to the explainer, like they must amount to something, probably a lot.

Schools, universities, armies, wherever.  Everything makes sense to those who are doing the explaining. Sounds a lot like working with 8th graders...they're certain they make sense, and I'm certain they'll eventually see the sense that I make.  8th grade's a lot like life, really.

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