Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Truth in Fiction

My latest Netflix binge/guilty pleasure has been the t.v. show Sons of Anarchy. It’s an ultraviolent show about a young man’s ascent to leadership of a California motorcycle gang. They deal in drugs, pornography, and guns—but mainly guns. It’s great fiction, but like most fiction, you have to let hold of your grasp of reality to truly enjoy it.

For example, house cleaning is a constant chore in our house. The washing machine runs so much it’s like another member of the family. House cleaning is the primary source of conflict between members of our family. We even paid someone to do it for us for a while and it helped, but didn’t solve the enormous task required to not live in filth.

But no one ever cleans on Sons of Anarchy unless someone is murdered and then obviously the
body, blood, other evidence must be taken care of. The lead character in this show constantly deals with intergroup dynamics of his gang, meets with rival and cooperative gang leaders to keep the peace, and frequently participates in the “runs” and “deals” associated with the gang. Maybe we can assume that his wife does all of the cleaning—except she is a Surgeon.

And childcare! This couple has two young children to care for and only a gun-toting, marijuana smoking, heavy drinking, promiscuous grandma to help them out. (The one who crashed while they were in the car because she was driving while stoned) My wife and I are just teachers, but we’ve already found that a majority of life is consumed by taking care of children. Yet these kids just seem to show up when the plot demands, and somehow, when they’re not on camera, someone is taking care of them.

Don’t get me started on The Walking Dead. The midst of a Zombie Apocalypse and somehow food, water, and personal hygiene (not to mention unlimited supplies of gasoline, automobiles, guns and ammo) are just magically taken care of.

If you want to enjoy this kind of fiction. you’ve just got to resolve yourself to the fact that they are stories, and good stories ignore the mundane realities of life. That’s why we like them. If I wanted to watch someone clean house I could just get off the couch and experience it first hand.

I want people who don’t work in a classroom to recognize that sometimes they want to see the fiction of teaching and learning. In the end, the story—engaged students working toward meaningful goals—is all that anyone wants to see. I don’t blame them, that’s the part that everybody likes (including teachers). It’s ok so long as there is a recognition that it’s the real world and not fiction.

The mundane details usually consume most of our life, even if it’s the “story worthy” moments that we remember. If we don’t take care of the mundane details effectively, we might even find that we never get to the “story worthy” moments.

In teaching, I’m talking about taking attendance and accounting for every student, and then going back to change it for everyone that is late. I’m talking about setting aside the time to grade and then spending chunks of time on the late work. It’s planning out your instruction and then reorganizing your lessons in response to student feedback, snow days, unplanned drills, etc. It’s collecting paperwork and making sure the consent forms are signed, preparing the materials for the homebound student.

It’s deciding whether it’s best to hold the crying student accountable for not being prepared or deciding that grace is appropriate in the moment. It’s letting a little school work go undone at school so that you can take the time to be human and interact with your students, knowing that it will take away the time that you have at home to be human and interact with your family.

It’s standing over a copy machine or waiting for documents to upload, it’s covering for a teacher in a medical emergency. It’s remembering to reserve the computers and searching the building to find them in the room of a previous user. It’s falling back on plan B when the technology fails (and it’s going to fail).

It’s like housework and childcare for a family. When we consume fiction, we don’t want to think about the realities, just the good stories.  I want to tell the good stories of our classrooms, but like my colleague pointed out in the previous post, it would be nice to acknowledge some of the reality.

Maybe then we could recognize that the way forward in education isn’t just looking for the problem and finding its solution. It's about working through the problems-- which aren't problems at all, just the reality of life-- and appreciating the story worthy moments.

1 comment:

  1. How come the professor could design a battery for the radio, hot air balloon, a car of some sort...but couldn't fix the darn hole in the side of the Minnow? Really! That never sat well with me. And yet I watched.