Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | June 7, 2012

Cooperating and Collaborating, I


Public School teachers rightly feel they are not consulted on matters pedagogical.  The administrative gestures in that direction – faculty surveys, “communication opportunities” with principals, and “listening” meetings with superintendents – do nothing to assuage the feeling.  Teachers see themselves more as laborers in public education than professional educators.  Hence the chance to Cooperate and Collaborate on matters of policy can be alluring.

I make no claim that a team approach to work is not good.  I know the automobile industry, advertising, television, soft ware, and a host of others rely on teams to keep the flow of production steady and successful.  The thing to keep in mind, though, is that teams of professionals are assembled by private enterprise with the express purpose of improving things, producing things that will create wealth, which is to say, money.  What such teams are not are children arbitrarily or otherwise assigned to work together to complete a project related to the study of a novel, a period of history, a geometry theorem, an eco-system, or the g-forces exerted by the thrill rides at the local amusement parks (don’t ask).  Nor are they teachers summoned from the comfort of their classrooms and lumped together with others with whom, likely as not, they have most significantly in common their desire to be almost anywhere else.

I once had a student who despised group projects.  She felt she could do more and better work herself.  I agreed with her but kept that intelligence to myself.  Our problem, hers and mine, was our high school was deeply, soulfully, righteously committed to the twinned concepts of Cooperation and Collaboration, or to put it in my student’s terms, group work.  In fact, Public Education is so invested in the efficacy of Cooperation and Collaboration that teachers themselves are forever being forced to participate in small group work during faculty meetings, long and short.

In faculty meetings, long (when students are not in attendance;  known as staff-development days) or short (when students have gone home for the day;  blessedly not all that often), teachers sit with other teachers with whom they work and/or are friends.  Thus science teachers sit together, physical education teachers, counselors, and so on.  While these are clearly groups and reasonably small, administrators found that such groupings will produce more humor than problem-solving. 

Administrators  do what they can about that.  Most other approaches work only marginally better.  The approach with the most success requites administrators pre-select teachers for each group.  If the administrators know their faculty, they end up with perhaps three tables that take the task seriously, a handful who give it the old college try, and just a couple who produce mostly drivel but don’t distract from the effort of the rest.

Before there were laws the purpose of which are to eradicate Bullying, there were some children of all ages who picked on other children.  Schools dealt with that sort of thing well, not well, or somewhere in between.  That changed in the aftermath of  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold’s homicidal rampage at Columbine High School with the discovery that Harris and Klebold has been picked on by some other students.  In time, the behavior of those students was called Bullying, and, beginning with Georgia in 1999, Anti-Bullying legislation began to be passed.  Today such laws exist in forty-nine of our fifty states, Montana being the sole exception.  Montana schools, however, by board of education policy, do have Anti-Bullying policies which are every bit as prolix as those of the states which do have laws.

Interestingly, there is no federal anti-bullying legislation, and that is apparently because the Federal Government figured out that The Office for Civil Rights could more easily dispatch its approximately 650 attorneys, investigators, and staff  to rattle their sabers in the lobbies of the state capitals.  No need for mussing or fussing with Congress and that tiresome legislative process

See, it turns out, if you are a bully, you are as likely as not to have violated any one of more of the following:  Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and/or the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.  While all of the above make money available to public schools, along with that money – surprise! – come conditions, requirements, stipulations, and the like.

As a response to ARS 15-431, the local high school here in the desert region of the lower portion of northern Arizona not long ago put in place and published in its student handbook its definition, policy, and procedures for dealing with Bullying.

In the handbook mentioned above one finds:  “Harassment/Bullying.  “Harassment and bullying of students is prohibited on campus and during school-related activities or circumstances” (italics, but not bolding, added).  Nonsense such as that last word is a regular product of Small Teacher Groups cooperating and collaborating on a task precious few give a hoot about.  Never mind that the type of adolescent once known as a smart aleck will read the entire sentence and wonder aloud to anyone within hearing, “So, it’s what?  Okay to harass and bully like who?  The janitors?  The lunch ladies?”  But how about this?  What, in a pragmatic way, does circumstances mean?  What might the difference between school related activity and a school related circumstance be? 

Let’s say you are a teacher at this consolidated high school.  Let’s say you stopped off at the local Jack-in-the-Box on your way home.  You observe through the drive-up window two students engaged in what appears to be a heated discussion.  One is red faced and seems to be crying. 

You complete your transaction.  You pull into the closest parking space, exit your car, and go inside. 

You see the two students.  Now you need to assess the circumstances.  By this time, the (possible) bully is standing, preventing his (possible) victim from getting up from the table, all the while saying things you can’t quite make out but which clearly are upsetting his victim more and more.  About to despair of being able to intervene with the authority arrogated to you by the word circumstance  you see open on the table at which the students were apparently sitting, two biology books.  Now you, as a member in good standing of the Science Department, know these books to be copies of the text book for the high school’s Biology course.  Aha!  They were studying together.  Clearly a school related circumstance.  You step forward to intervene.

I know that’s ludicrous, but so is including such verbiage as circumstance, especially considering the way it got included which I know with absolute certainty because I have observed this sort of thing happen over and over.  Some twit in the small group insisted that school related activities didn’t cover every possibility, and no one else at the table had the doughtiness to object.  As my former student knew long, long ago, a small group is only as bright as its dimmest member.

Check back in a few days  to find out what the result of the Galahad science teacher’s actions would likely turn out to be.

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