20. Birthing the New Learning Infrastructure

Vernon’s story might be extreme, but not unusual. Vernon might be described by Mark Twain, “I have never let schooling interfere with my education.”

Most teachers have encountered smart boys and girls who are disinterested. People like Vernon who hit middle school wondering what the fuss is about.

They look and act bored.

Sometimes those students are like Twain or Thomas Edison. Young people who are passionately engrossed with aspects of the world outside the classroom. They cannot care less about the value of academic credentialing.

Intelligent but bored students like Vernon can eventually land on their feet.

But those distracted because of abuse, addiction, poverty, illness, or another kind of dark influence on their psyche have a much harder road.

Mary will find that problem in her seventh-grade classes. Because seventh graders struggle with who they are and what they should be — even in the best of families and circumstances.

From one minute to the next.

In the 1980s researchers thought catering to individual learning styles was important to students like Vernon and those alienated from school. They believed teaching and learning must be individualized.

It did not last.

In addition to its logistical complexity, learning styles went down the drain when the standards and testing movement began.

Politicians loved to denigrate what they called misguided pedagogy. They dismissed efforts to individualize learning as ridiculous. Too complicated and expensive.

Policy makers thought mass education was efficient and symbolic of real-world circumstances.

Relevant to real life challenges.

A way to educationally support people who persevered in a bell-shaped world of winners, losers, and all those in between.

Vernon, a late bloomer, blossomed as an adult in a dog-eat-dog atmosphere. But he did not respond to a manufactured environment in school. Simulations did not interest him.  

He thought it was only academic trivial pursuit.

Vernon, now an elected member of the school board, was a hard sell for the new superintendent. His history with school and penchant for legalistic problem solving, made him confrontational.  

Vernon is still on the board and as forceful as ever.     

Mary Chapman’s Story – Part 18

Barbara knew much about how the district became part of the new learning infrastructure when NCLB was in force. It evolved during the external imposition of standards and high stakes tests.

And was launched despite ongoing confrontations with Vernon.

Vernon’s arguments were aggressive. He did not like the school structure he hated as a child. But he was a bundle of contradictions.

He reviled the curriculum as being meaningless trivia. As a student he disliked having to sublimate his intelligence to allow mediocre students to be properly served.

Yet as a parent and board member, he feared a worse alternative.

 “How do we create a meaningful curriculum?” Vernon asked. “How do we challenge all students to learn in ways that match their ability without overcomplicating the instructional process?”

Vernon prided himself as being a legal and commercial problem-solver. Logical thinking was fact-based and straightforward.

He admitted to lacking the creativity to come up with his own answers. Yet he was suspicious of projects touted as panaceas.

Board meetings were interesting. They attracted members of the community. Deliberations were civil enough, but people were getting tired of continuous impasse similar to an evenly matched tennis game between an articulate superintendent and a vociferous lawyer.

One day Vernon’s wife, Amy, showed up. She had hired a babysitter for the kids, and surprised Vernon by sitting on the front row of the audience.

Her presence rattled Vernon and led to consternation among the community members.

Amy was known to be as outspoken as her husband. She was a stay-at-home mother trained as a lawyer. When members of the audience could participate, Amy stood up and told everyone her background was constitutional law.

No surprise to anyone, Amy said she and Vernon discussed topics on the board’s public agenda. She agreed the two questions Vernon asked about a meaningful curriculum and individualization of instruction were valid.

But she did not agree with Vernon in how the district should answer them.

Vernon looked stunned, but Amy continued, “Vernon seems to be looking for executive solutions, as would any corporate lawyer.”

Then she turned to the superintendent. “Is your proposal closer to executive decision-making, or participatory program building?”

 He quickly said, “Participatory program building.”

Amy asked him to elaborate.

The audience laughed because that is what the superintendent had been trying to do all along.

Hearing about the process second-hand through Vernon, Amy had come to that conclusion. And thought it was a wonderful idea.

After the superintendent briefly explained the new school model for the umpteenth time, Amy smiled at Vernon. Then she addressed the audience. “Let me assure you that our marriage is intact. These are our family dynamics when two lawyers live together.”.

Vernon was trained to be an advocate. Amy was trained to match provisions of a constitution with litigated points of contention.

Advocates take sides and use evidentiary law to advance their side of a dispute. Constitutional lawyers evaluate practices and legal interpretations in terms of what a constitution or its framers meant.

Amy got to the heart of the matter. In the absence of a constitution-like document, everything depended on the intricacies of evidentiary law. With Vernon’s approach, the board was trying to deliberate a convoluted mess.

All eyes turned to Vernon. With a sheepish grin, he held up his arms in surrender, and said, “My wife is correct.”

Then he turned to the superintendent, who looked shellshocked. Vernon said, “I’m  ready to vote in favor of the proposed new model.”

But Vernon and the other board members wanted to be involved with the development and implementation of written policies for the academic program.

That moment in time changed everything. It brought about focus and an understanding that the district’s academic program would be built and implemented on solid procedural and philosophical ground.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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