Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Cult of Education

In my previous life, I worked for a giant retailer.  While working there I learned words like company culture, we stand for, we do this here, we wear smiles, goals, LY, TY, lead by example, etc. While working for this company many things happened:
  1. I became a "we" and not an "I" 
  2. I lost sight of what was truly important
  3. I didn't know what free times was
  4. I didn't see my family, ever
  5. I didn't, I didn't , I didn't
To this day, and I say over and over, the best decision I ever made was leaving the corporate world. I still remember the flash of when I suddenly snapped out of it and "put down the Kool-Aid" as we commonly used to say about those who suddenly left the company or realized there was more to life. I sat at our monthly rally, a small sea of carefully coiffed, shined, scented, powdered, pressed people surrounded me. There was a slump in the economy and customers weren't so willing to pull out their black American Express cards, so our regional stood on a stage in front of us giving us an epic pep talk. He was firing us up and like everyone else I nodded. All of our heads bobbed in unison as his words pulled the invisible strings at the tops of heads. I felt rejuvenated. I felt like I could take on anything. I could out sell, out perform, and drive my business like no one else, until they hit play on a sound clip. Suddenly the scratchy voice of JFK filled the second floor,     

    "And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the     Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

I looked up surprised. The famous words of JFK, the words he used to inspire the race to space, were being used to get me to make money. To sell. To push my employees to sell things they couldn't probably afford at the time. There seemed to be something so vulgar in it at that moment, and while everyone kept nodding and the energy levels in the room grew palpable, I stopped nodding. I broke away from the herd in that moment and looked around confused. What was I doing here? 

This past weekend I was in a training for a new class the school I work for will be offering. The environment in education is completely different than corporate America. The time I spent in the workforce helped me. I don't regret my time there, because I met people I grew to love and learned the lessons that come with working. I have an advantage over the lifetime academia types I'm now surrounded with for example, and while in this training I realized that. 

Two instructors were giving a lesson on how to implement exercises in the classroom, and they gave us a line to use with our students while reading, "A line I feel is strong is...". We all repeated it in an example exercise we did as a group. The line was repeated from all over the room. 

A line I feel is strong is...                                                             A line I feel is strong is...
                          A line I feel is strong is...                                                  A line I feel is strong is...
        A line I feel is strong is...                   A line I feel is strong is...
                                         A line I feel is strong is...                   A line I feel is strong is...

After the instructor said, "We want to get students used to using this phrase. We want to bring them into the culture...". After he said that I tuned out for a moment. I had a flash to my prior life. The word culture. Culture. The word rolled around in my mouth for a moment, along the edges of my tongue, and I chewed it slowly my molars pressing against each other. It no longer had the bitter aftertaste it once had. It tasted different, and I realized that no matter what we will assimilate to our environments. We will embrace the culture of where we work, but we get to choose that culture. And, if I have to choose which Kool-Aid I want to drink I pick education. I can teach, but also have time to write and read and write more. Yes, there is bureaucracy, but teaching students the culture of how to appreciate great works of art, to read, and write in a way that will benefit them not just now, but later in life, tastes a whole lot sweeter. I will fight, I will pull, and badger young minds to the finish line. Some will be left behind, but I can talk about stories and writing with passion, and passion makes all the difference. 

So I repeated, "A line I feel is strong is..."  

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