Saturday, July 31, 2010

What Will Be the New "Drilling Down"?

I can tell by the sudden uptick in emails (including a request that I alter a grade so that a child will meet the eligibility requirements for a sport--rage!) that it is time to start preparing in earnest for the start of the next school year. As always, that is an almost overwhelmingly complicated prospect, yet full of hope and possibility. This may, after all, be the year that I am able to leave for home just one day, maybe even a day a month, feeling like I've done everything exactly right; ALL the children know more, think better, and feel just the right balance of respect/love and challenge/accountability from me. Could be, right? So, in between preparing for my friends visit, I am allowing my mind to just go everywhere, thinking of all the things that might possibly be this next year.

Alas, I have a good imagination, and a knowledge that some changes have been made that will require me to attend more meetings with school and district-level administration this year. This got me thinking about the 'professional level' verbal ticks adopted by some in leadership, and how vexing it can be to listen to the same damned word or phrase, often inappropriately used, dozens of times in a 'conversation' (read: lecture). The phrases change every year, of course, following the last trend in corporate blather. Three years ago, during my first teaching year, I was told I was being 'negative' because I asked a pointed question about an astonishingly foolish idea that was presented to the staff as intellectual alchemy. 'Negativity' is discouraged, or was, because 'positivity' was what made good results, and prevented annoying questions by insubordinate jerks like me, just like on Oprah and in the corporate world. I, as a newbie, foolishly thought that smart ideas executed well made good results. Silly me. Then, of course, the corporate world started to crumble and 'positivity' started looking a lot like either burying one's head in the sand or Harvey-level mental illness; it's pretty harmless and cute, but you wouldn't put the guy spouting this philosophy in charge of your money or your kids.

The bursting of corporate bubbles must have had a very serious impact on the health habits of corporate drones, indeed, because we were next instructed to "work the programs [we were] provided, with full fidelity to all the steps." This would have been almost reasonable, minus the insistence that educators stop all their annoying thinking and asking questions and just do as they're told already. Except. My school district spent approximately 70 jillion dollars on programs with competing and unreconcilable philosophies, and instructed us to put them all into place at once. This causes educators to ask impertinent questions like 'how can I implement all these together without making myself and the children explode?' and 'what results can I expect from this veritable cornucopia of overpriced programs?'. I don't want to go into detail, because I would probably be sharing corporate secrets, but it was a little like telling teachers and children that they had to simultaneously be completely skeptical radical atheists, and completely faithful as mormons, southern baptists, and orthodox jews. 'Twas a puzzlement, and all questions, objections, and general observations were met with a repeat of the 'full fidelity' requirement, because like addicts, we were addicted to workable solutions, and had to give them up cold turkey by working our steps.

And then we got to the "what the hell is wrong with you?!eleventyone!" year, during which we were encouraged finally to think. Huzzah! We like thinking! Thinking involves using knowledge and ability and coming up with further questions, or maybe even solutions! Thinking is our friend. Or not. Because there is no thinking, there is 'drilling down' to root causes, and when we had located 'root causes,' we were told to 'drill down' to the 'root causes of the root causes.' And then 'drill down' some more. I cannot begin to express to you how completely annoying it is to be told to 'drill down' repeatedly by people with annoying accents and nothing else to offer the conversation. And when we finally got to the platonic ideals we were mining for, we were asked how we could change them for the children. Except, some of the root causes have to do with the community and the fact that our schools are not really engaged with the community on a level that is helpful and unifying. Helpful and unifying costs money, and there's no money left to make the school a center of a vibrant community again, when you had to spend all those 70 jillion dollars on corporate education programs that each did much less than advertised, and combined did much, much less than slightly smaller class sizes and more frequent parent nights would have done.

Well, I can't imagine that 'drilling down' will still be the annoying as hell almost meaningless corporate left-over that gets touted with little context or understanding at the meetings this year. Even if my internal editors are all hard at work, which they rarely are, I have younger colleagues who haven't trained their editors yet, and older colleagues whose internal editors have become as cynical and grizzled as those guys in the forties movies. One person will say 'drill down' just once and then we're off on BP compare and contrast essay, I just know it.

Since there are still superintendents who append "CEO" to their title because it seems more professional (*cough* Arne Duncan *cough*), and consider educated children a commodity that we as educators produce from the raw materials of children plus books, measured by tests, I figure there will be no slowing of the desire of educational leadership in my county stealing bad ideas from their better-remunerated friends in corporate culture to prove that they are too cool and capable, and educators aren't out of the loop. So, some fool thing that some MBA somewhere used as a motivational earworm once will be adopted by leadership as 'the way to fix a broken educational system' like ours, and they'll feel like they fit in with their friends. The children, however, will continue to learn at the rates that teachers and parents can help them learn.

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