11 October 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy and School Appearances

I've spent years pondering the strong desire many Americans have to be busy. Not only do people aspire to being busy, they boast about how busy they are. It's as if relaxation, recreation and contemplation were signs of weakness. Odd when you think about it. We work for more hours and harder than many previous generations. Instead of creating leisure we create more work more activities more ways to fill the calendar.  But I think I get it now. To be busy distracts us. Keeps us from looking ourselves and our mortality in the eye. To have free time is to be able to contemplate the abyss that awaits. It begs us  to go about the awful task of self evaluation, to consider who we are, what we have wrought and what is to come.  We fill those vast expanses of thought with work and what's left with television and chores. Child rearing is an especially good out, particularly in today's society where children are constantly waited on, taken to soccer practice, violin lessons, play dates (imagine!) while parents occupy themselves with ancillary activities like PTA meetings. Two working parents trying to earn enough to pay for all the needs of their children while saving for their college funds have no time nor any inclination for musings on the universe.  Children don't demand so much of their parents' time, the parent's demand it of themselves and their children. When do kids have a a minute for an unscripted thought? They are rarely alone and never without something to do. If there's not a coordinated activity in place there is the TV and the computer. Young minds are taught from an early age to fill open moments, all of them with "something to do." Hopefully something productive. Idle minds are the devil's workshop, people must suppose. In truth, a people given time to think will frequently start to ask the question: why? This can lead to trouble for authorities, institutions and conventional wisdom. Further, considering the why can lead one to uncomfortable truths. Better to keep busy.

Today a North Dakota high school freshman walked in front of his class, apologized then shot himself. The principal, Jay Townshend said this: "This has never happened here before." You know pal, it's not like it's an everyday occurrence at other schools across the country. But this is expected reaction of the soulless bureaucrat that is a public school administrator. To them it's all about appearances. This kid shooting himself makes us look bad and we've got to get out in front of the story and assure people that our students don't make a habit of performing ritual hari kari in full view of their classmates. I'm reminded of the last principal I worked for, a chubby walking buzz cut of pseudo man who personified the modern de-flavorized administrator, who wouldn't allow in school suspensions. Was it because they were counter productive or harmful? No it was because they "looked bad." This bad look stemmed from the fact that most students who would be serving on campus suspension would be African American. So forget about addressing the problems our young black students are having, let's just make sure we keep it under wraps. Appearances. As a teacher the evaluation process never -- I literally mean never -- examined the tests I gave, how I graded them or how I prepared students for them nor did it ever consider the projects I assigned or how I graded them or how I prepared students for them. But the arrangement of my desks and the amount of student work displayed on my walls? Always. Sadly, I kid you not. It was all about appearances, how the room looked, not what went inside it.

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