Saturday, May 1, 2010

LOL - A-maze-ing Laughter - from the Inside Out!

Where I work in the BC school system is really bleak. The gutting of Learning Services at our school district's Ed Centre, along with other cuts to the system, are the results of the quest to find $16 million for a balanced budget. There is a pall, a very dark cloud, that has fallen over the 4th floor, an overcasting of sadness from which none of us escapes. Those whose jobs are not cut ponder the gaps in next year.

The jokes we tell are black ones about having the choice of cubicles and a window in every cubicle but these ring hollow as there is real horror at the loss to the team. Stories move from floor to floor here, the most recent about renting out the 4th floor space for the money that will put the band and strings programs back in elementary schools. We who are facing the abrupt end to our work supporting teachers and students have moments of despair and shock but try to keep up the pace of work to offset the desperate need to finish what we had started for those who look to us for that kind of leadership.

Some of this work was just getting started and should not be finishing. I put supporting the work of teacher-librarians in the 21st century into that category as it is also about providing expertise, digital and print resources and technology tools that support all teachers and students in schools in an age of information expanding exponentially. But I would say that, of course!

Laughter is often the answer to such upheaval. Imagine a field trip in search of laughter as an option to the regular divisional monthly meeting where the topic was to be healing and wellness! A group of us sought laughter and public healing and the perspective one gets from distancing, tumbling out into the real world, out from the pit of educational despair and the ponderous waiting. This last Thursday was going to be a long day anticipating the sealing of our collective fates, whether we stay or go, as the Trustees were to review, possibly revise, and then sign the budget that very evening. Some of each of us would be gone with the cuts.

Our version of the regular last-Thursday-of-the-month morning meeting in LS began instead for those opting out at 7:45 in the dining room at the Sylvia Hotel. With coffee and menus, we awaited our group of 15 and stretched ourselves along the same side of the long table looking out in awe at the waves and the trees and the daffodils. This definitely felt better. Awe is often a good companion to shock. We had sought and found brief release from the pall, released to mingle amongst real people and pretend our work was not overcast by the dreadful realization that there were real and harmful threats to our beloved public education.

We didn't talk about that fear. We talked about babies due and our Teacher Inquiry projects and books we are reading and so on, the kind of talk that sustains a community of educators. Until someone shared information from the morning news that our budget approval process here in the City on the Edge was being extended. Still, we didn't know what that would look like. We were already shivering about getting out into the wind and the sunshine with our little student and student-teacher guides who were due to arrive at 9 am. This bafflement would have to wait. We are getting good here at waiting, at being on edge at the edge of learning in the City on the Edge.

As teachers and parents, we can be counted on to find delight in books. Copies of the picture books about Mr GotToGo, the cat who lived at the Sylvia Hotel, were found. This is Steve in the photo; his job has been cut in half. He bought the picture books for his daughter.

The ironic humour of the photo emerged later for me as I explore the capacity of blogging to capture the moments unique to a small group who work in leadership roles for the educating of educators and the well-being of all kids. Less of any of Steve is a loss; it's no laughing matter in our schools where issues around homophobia are real and serious for some of our community.

Our young guides, students and student teachers from King George Secondary, took us firmly by the hand out into the sharp wind and the waiting world. They drew us in to the art by having us physically express happiness and sadness along the front of English Bay; we sang as we skipped or lowered ourselves to the wind and the sad things in the world, O Canada! How joyously we had sung that just two months earlier.

How far have we fallen in spirits, and is one the result of the other? But lest I stray and get tearful, I need you to know that our group was beset with laughter. These young people were so excited, so proud of their project to use the Biennale public art installations for community-building and for embracing the spirit of learning, so kind to us, as if they knew we were essentially sad for ourselves and for them too.

The Biennale public art installation at English Bay is called A-maze-ing Laughter and it was perfect, serendipitous, in fact, that we had thought to come there. So that's what patinated bronze looks like. Each laughing pose seemed to be the same man. How close, we discovered, those laughing faces were to grimaces of pain. How strange the silent laugh is. How much of the laughter was that of defiance in the face of unrelenting and ill-conceived change? How powerless tears are to stop the movement. But laughter ... now that's different.

The artist Minjun Yue had caught us in his many poses and we took a few minutes here to be mindful of that capture. We needed to centre ourselves in the moment and deepen our capacity to find the meaning.

The young people took us to their school and we met in the library with the art teacher whose work with the project has been real and important in shaping a shifting of spirit and attitude to learning in a small urban school community.

And, while there is now less room in a child's day than ever before for choosing art as a focus for instruction and there may be fewer blocks of access to that school library next year, there is power a people has in being able to laugh at the foolishness of those in government. That they would think they can fool us, that they would seek the false economy of mean-spirited budgets and possibly seek to suppress the spirit of a people and a system that has otherwise educated us too well for that? Thank you, Mr Gutstein, for this week's Georgia Straight article entitled, "The War on Public Schooling Wages," because what you say is insightful, well researched, and so very right. "If public-education supporters hope to counter the success of market fundamentalism, they must stop denying the free-market frame and start constructing a frame based on social justice, and they must be prepared to do this consistently for many years."

Soon enough the free-market framers will hear the laughter. We who think critically about change and movement and democracy for and accountability to the citizenry are already laughing, albeit in the discomfort of despair that what is getting lost here will only be retrieved at great cost to society. In the name of free and accessible and quality public education, we must always be mindful of the need for insisting that supporters are laughing at the foolishness, and then setting to, insisting on building and maintaining the capacity for their children's schools to support creative, mindful, deepened, and meaningful education for all children.

Half of the people in my pictures and the photographer will be out of their leadership roles next year, not for any other reason than notions of education as a system of free-market widget-production that must be driven by generally accepted business accounting practices, Thatcherian by nature, and not by clear understandings about what's important to pay for if we are building the capacity of a system to provide meaningful learning opportunities for our youngest citizens. They are after all the ones who are going to be living and building the future of the province. There will be less support for their learning Math, developing literacy, building understanding about a world of cultural understanding built on anti-racist and anti-homophobic principles, and on creating Teacher Inquiry opportunities for their teachers to explore ways to implement new pedagogies that create engagement or to learn to integrate new technologies, for example. There will be less support and less time available for them to go to school libraries and for sharing and implementing a vision of the important place school libraries hold in the new directions for learning. There will be less funding for all the rest that has been supported by teacher-consultants in this centralized location of curricular and program support for teachers and thus teaching and learning.

All in all, we the opters-for-laughing felt the "meeting of minds" was fantastic. We are grateful to the school for reading us like books and playing us like fine instruments and drawing us into the art. We hope that that capacity is retained. Something is going very well in that place. We are all hoping to be able to choose to work at King George! The support of the actual and educational community has made a real difference for this school. In return, they made us joyful and appreciative and revitalized enough to carry on. The gap that is the grimace is deepened, but we are laughing out loud, from the inside out, in hopes that others will be able to hear and share in the spirit that defies in the end and rises to seek real joyfulness as the end.

In the interim, I recommend blogging and laughter myself, that's real healing for me! Are you still with me? As the blog is refusing to paragraph properly, I am taking it as a message that that's enough blogging for the weekend. Have a good one.


maryakem said...

I'm still with you.

Moira Ekdahl said...

Thanks, my friend. It's going to be a very very long month.