Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Do What You're Paid For: the distance between the mediocrity of work and the goals of education

The majority seem to follow the science.
The Weather Network had an interesting poll today.  The American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that later start times for adolescents would allow them to function better with their funky circadian rhythms.

It's a fact of our biology that our sleep patterns change during adolescence.  Being a teacher I've been aware of this for a long time because my job isn't to punish students but rather to develop their best expression of skill and ability.

The comments on this poll are your typical internet nonsense.  It makes me wonder how most people think (or don't).  The most vocal opponents (a minority in this poll) seem to think school should be about forcing students into alignment with adult expectations, however mediocre, biology be damned.

Some pretty nasty assumptions in these acerbic comments...

Is school about 'commitment, dedication' and the benefits you get from these values?  Of course it is, but it is also seeking your best work.  Unlike the 'adult' world where showing up and doing what you're paid for is the expectation, school is (should be?) about excellence.  I don't want a forced effort and I'm not looking for a pass, though many of my students are.  I wonder where they learn those values?

There are jobs and companies that do embrace excellence, but they are a minority.  If you're working for a pay cheque (and the vast majority are), you're an advocate of the show up on time-do what you're paid for-and-grow up school of adulthood.  For a lot of students school is the last place where they are encouraged to seek their best effort.  The rest of their lives are spent venting their spleen and dragging everyone down on internet comment forums.

Top performance isn't only a matter of effort.  I hear a lot of students tell me, "I'll put in an effort in senior years and get the grades I need to get into university."  They get to grade 12 and suddenly realize what squandering years of foundational skill building really costs.  I have that Incompetence poster up in my class.  It's not meant to be cruel, it's meant to remind students that I'm not there to waste their time or hold them in room for a certain amount of time (like most jobs they'll have when they graduate).  I'm looking for optimal skills building for each student (they're all different).

One of the reasons so many people enjoy watching professional sports is because you're seeing people performing at their very best.  A pro athlete isn't just putting in an effort, they are maximizing their anatomy with diet, sleep and hours upon hours of training and practice.  You're seeing their excellence as the tip of a massive iceberg of commitment.  The doing of unpalatable things isn't the point, excellence is, and you don't reach it by ignoring basic facts of biology.

I worked in private business for fifteen years before I became a teacher.  With very few exceptions, work involved being there on time and doing what you're told.  When I attempted to display initiative it was considered difficult to manage.  One of the reasons I became a teacher is because I have the professional latitude to produce my best work.  I don't just work to a clock, I work to a higher goal.  Rather than aim students at the lowered expectations of the working world, perhaps it's time to embrace excellence.

A few months ago I read an interesting article on the conflict between capitalism (read: neo-liberal devaluation of human capital) and education systems.  These Weather Network poll responses are firmly in that neo-liberal mindset of reduced human capital.  You're a cog in the machine: do what you're told, be consistent, show up on time... if that's what education becomes then we truly are lost.