Everything is figureoutable. Or so I’ve been told, anyway.
I don’t recall who said it. I don’t even recall why it came up. It’s one of those words like “capacitate” that crops up in conversation…with the people I work with–not everyone works with the same word-nerd group that I do…
Life has been just…strange lately. Conflict seems to be the ongoing theme, whether it’s between kids over friendships, teachers and students over work expectations, or parents and teachers over content, behavior, grading, accountability, and an inability to communicate with one another without being nasty about it. It seems to be a much larger issue than even COVID right now.
When I teach about conflict as a Big Idea, regardless of the content area, I teach that there are specific generalizations that one can make about conflict that are always true.
Conflict is composed of opposing forces.
Conflict creates change.
Conflict may be natural or human-made.
Conflict can be helpful or harmful.
Conflict may be intentional or unintentional.
Conflict may allow for synthesis and change.
Think about conflict in terms of literature. It’s easiest to begin there, I think, because it’s in every piece of literature ever written which is the story of us in one way or another.
Protagonist and antagonist. There’s a problem created on some level that both experience differently. That problem helps or harms, creates change to one or more characters in some way, and makes an impact on the situation being shared. When the problem is resolved, there might be a change. Perhaps it’s a change in perspective, in situation, in setting, in livelihood, in family situations, in having learned something, or in having learned nothing at all.
Think about conflict in terms of history. Please see above and reference the situation in Ukraine right now. Or any war, battle, takeover, time with one group in power, any political party or governmental structure, societal event, or leader.
Think about conflict in terms of science. Adaptations, predator/prey, impacts of climate, humans, and physical changes of environment on species, how electricity works, how the solar system works, how space flight works.
All of the generalizations above still apply regardless of the content area.
We exist in a constant state of conflict. In education, those who cheered us on now fault us for our young learners being “behind.” Blame is passed around like candy cigarettes on the playground–everyone taking a little and passing it on to the next.
Learning loss has to be someone’s fault, right?
Schools were closed, so it’s the government’s fault.
Teachers didn’t teach well, so it’s the district and building leaders’ fault for hiring morons to teach our children.
Teacher prep programs didn’t prepare teachers for pandemic teaching.
Administrators and building leaders didn’t hold teachers accountable enough for student growth–why weren’t teachers visiting every child’s home to make sure they learned? Does no one care about test scores?
It’s the <insert political leaning> fault that kids are behind–they’re hiding something. They’re taking parents’ power away! They’re indoctrinating the children! They’re focusing on terrible things like kindness and respect instead of ensuring that our children understand that America is a white nation founded by Christians where everyone both speaks English and calls themselves Christian even if they don’t do the things that Jesus calls them to in the Bible.
Conflict has popped up in odd places lately. Physical interactions become aggressive. Boundaries are hidden like invisible fencing, only becoming an issue when the boundary is broken…and only for some, not all. Things that would typically be a calm conversation during the course of a day are turning into sniping, griping, and gossip about all the things X isn’t doing for Y or that Z is getting away with when A is following the rules.
Social interactions are awkward, unkind, and rather quite impolite.
In the span of the last few weeks, I’ve probably talked to more people (kids and adults) about personal space, distancing, aggressive behavior during play, swearing, offensive comments, rude retorts, gossip, rumor-starting, unkindness overall, and other really ridiculous things than I have in the last 20ish years of teaching, retail sales, insurance selling and servicing, and being the all-around scapegoat because I was the only person available.
I am tired of conflict. It’s exhausting.
I am tired of people being disrespectful and rude. I am tired of people doing things just to get under the skin of others. I am tired of people choosing NOT to change or grow because they feel that responsibility is not theirs–someone else ought to do it. I am tired of the one-up-manship and haughtiness and holier than thou attitudes of others.
I am tired of people causing drama where there doesn’t need to be any. This is not All My Children, people, and none of ya’ll are Erica Kane.
I want to tell people that no, you aren’t right simply because you’re you. I want to scream at them that this is not how civilized people behave toward one another. I want to sit grown-ass adults down in front of Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and force them to watch it until they understand that kindness and respect matter more than getting your way. Make them internalize the message that while everyone is unique and special, those qualities do not give you the right to be hurtful and unkind and toxic and combative, especially when you are in the wrong.
Also, perhaps it would help them develop the ability to read, gain number sense, spatial awareness, and a solid belief in Snuffleupagai.
I want to believe that all of this is figureoutable. Some days I doubt it. Some days I feel like giving up and handing the world off to someone else to do as they please with it. Nothing I do will matter anyway.
And then a child reminds me that it is all figureoutable…really, it is.
They choose to go to class instead of dwell on things completely outside of their control, ramping up into an emotional tizzy over and over again. They come to visit me, shutting the door behind them, ranting for a moment when they’re angry, and then go back to class because that’s where learners learn. They see the good in someone else and compliment them, help them find lost mittens or coats, pick up dropped snacks or backpack stashes, or share everything they know about Pokemon because that is what makes their world go ’round. They have plans to write a book this weekend, plans to be on their own at 21 as a famous YouTuber (cannot believe that is even a noun, people…ugh) or a math teacher (though the YouTubing probably pays better), plans to make eggs and bacon and toast with their Oma on Saturday morning.
They remember that we used to be a community of thinkers, geeks, nerds, learners, writers, scientists, historians, artists, performers, engineers, mathematicians, musicians, gamers, poets, and generally good human beings who truly cared about the people they spent their days with. Even when there were disagreements. Even when things were complicated.
Even when the world turned itself upside-down…it was all figureoutable and would be ok.