Reflection’s Reality: A Summer Series from the Project 180 Classroom
For this third Reflection’s Reality post, I decided to go back to the roots of my madness, to why I decided to give all kids an A for the year. Funny that it all started with why. And as I continue to meet others here in the gradeless realm, it seems, in that, we share a common bond for our gradeless journeys: we were not content with the what of things, so we changed them. We were not afraid to ask why or why not. I have never found comfort in the way things are. Last year, I finally found the courage to change the what of things. Below is the beginning of the 180 journey.
Originally published June 7, 2016
Yesterday, it was my turn to deliver my injustice speech. I thought–hoped–that maybe with the craziness of the end of the year the kids would let me off the hook, but that was not the case. So, Sunday morning, I wrote my speech. Our speeches, as many of you know, had to address an injustice. I chose to speak to the injustice of the status quo, using my plan to radically change my grading approach next year as the backdrop, attempting to reveal the “why” behind my crazy.
I delivered my speech four times yesterday. We caught it on film during fourth period, and I posted it on Facebook (link below). I have also included the script–as delivered. The kids made me give a target time, and they insisted on filling out the PVLEGS feedback forms, too. I was pleased with how critical they were of my performance, sharing such things as “gestures seemed forced” or “relax and be more confident.” They also shared some warm and fuzzy sentiments. Some were just tickled that I said the word “ass.” Twice. Kids.
Anyway, wanted to share. Not sure how I feel about the video. Always tough and weird to see and hear myself on tape. Glad it’s behind me. I was more nervous than I thought I would be. But, importantly, I shared that with the kids, so they understood it never really gets easy; we just learn to manage our nerves, but that only comes from experience. I am so glad the kids and I shared this powerful experience. Truly felt it was a triumph for all.
Feeling a little guilty about being a year late on my “give-all-an-A approach,” I awarded a 100% to each kid who delivered a speech (only one didn’t). In truth, it’s the least I could do for these lovely little souls. They have been perfect partners in my tentative experiments this year. Truly, I owe them more than I can give them. They have given me the courage to bend my own trees. I only hope that I have inspired them to bend their own.
Ask Me Why
Ask me. Go on. Ask. Ask me why. Ask me why I do what I do. And I will speak. I will seek to answer what you would know.
But be careful, for “why” is a stick with two ends, a piercing probe sharper by far than the blunt weapon of “what.”
And you, my friends, you are well-acquainted with “what.” True. You picked him up long ago. We dropped him before you as you crossed the threshold of your education.
Of course, “why” was there, too, but he fell in the tall grass when we dropped him, and we let him lie, hoping he remained hidden from view, and you, distracted, did not see.
But for the better we believed, for why is poky and sharp, better for kids not to play, with that which is dangerous. And with that, “what” became enough.
Didn’t it? Every day. Every day, you walk in here. And every day you ask me, “What are we doing?” But you never ask me why.
Is it that you are afraid? Is it that you don’t care? Or is it that we hid it so well that you never learned to dare. Why? Why won’t you ask me why?
Is it simply that you are young? Or, is it more? Maybe it is more… because even the adults in the building seem to find little comfort in the why of things.
No, it’s true. As a staff, we have established norms to follow when we interact with each other.
What? Adults need rules for engagement? Oh, my young friends, if only you could see a staff meeting.
Indeed, one of our staff norms is, “Seek to understand.” Apparently, “why” was not readily found by us either when we entered our education. Funny that we have to have a rule for digging into the why of things. But why?
Is it that we, too, are afraid? Is it that we, too, do not care? Both, I suspect.
And so, I wonder. I wonder about next year. I wonder if the “What is Syrie doing?” Will also come with the “why?” Will they seek to understand? Can I make them understand?
Friend or Foe, it will not be easy to explain, for it runs counter to the very “what” of our existence in education, but I, discontent and disturbed with that what asked why, and, then, I asked why not?
And that has given me the courage to proceed, to turn upside down that which no longer makes sense in my search to understand. And though it would not suffice, I, when pushed to explain, would prefer to lift from the page a piece from Bradbury, which aptly intimates the very why of my crazy.
“I hate a Roman named Status Quo!’ he said to me.
‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said,
‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds.
See the world.
It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.
Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal.
And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away.
To hell with that,’ he said,
shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.”
And that is the essence. I wish to knock education on its ass. With great impudence, I wish to land the sloth flat on his back and make him suffer for the lie that he is, for the damage he has done, and for the apathy that he has aroused, kicking him again for good measure, releasing my rage, Banging my staff on the Bridge of Khazad Dum, crying, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”
But I will not. I cannot. For the savage in me will win no friends, and so I will simply, humbly share that I wish to learn, patiently and prudently explaining my journey to those who will listen. And that, my friends, is the “why” of my next year.
But, too, I wonder about your next years. I wonder if “what” will be enough.
I wonder if you will be content to hang upside down on the lower, more stable branches of “what,” or if you will seek the higher, more dangerous limbs in the top, daring to bend the tree with your “why’s?”
So, go on. Ask me. Go on, ask. Ask me. Ask the world. Ask why. Be not content with the “what” of things, else you become the sloth of the world.
And while I truly regret that I cannot gift you an “A,” this year, I can instead offer you a word. Why. I wish I could give you more.
Do. Reflect. Do Better.
Link to video (Facebook) of my delivering the speech.