Thursday, April 23, 2009

What Is Success?

The attempts at actually becoming spring are making progress. When I left the Outpost in Back of the Yards, it was 68 degrees and sunny. Unfortunately there are Southeasterly winds and when I arrived in Streeterville, it was 59 degrees. Still this is under sunny skies at the Mini. Not bad. Tomorrow the weather dudes predict 80 degrees. I'll believe it when I see it, much like the Cubs winning the pennant. The view from the 14th floor is quite lovely in the late afternoon sun, however. I actually saw little leaves popping out on trees this afternoon and a great many early spring flowers have bloomed.

There were no students at work today. We, the staff, were subjected to what is known as Professional Development, PD in professional jargon. Present and ready for PD sir! Most times PD is mind-numbingly boring. I have to admit that when the Principal of my school begins speaking, my eyes automatically glaze over and my mind goes somewhere in another dimension. Inevitably, I am forced back into our real world when I realize that someone has asked my opinion on some really dufus topic, and not having been listening, my astute response is often something on the order of, "Huh?" Then I'm always forced to B.S. to beat the band to cover for the fact that I really wasn't listening. Tried listening a few times. Never lent itself to any forwarding of mankind's knowledge or competence. Waste of time at PD. Frankly, if someone would just recognize that PD, itself, is a waste of time, and just let us do our jobs for a change, schools, in all likelihood, would improve. How about just giving us a day off every once in a while, to recharge our batteries. Send us all to the beach for a day. Buy the staff a drink and some Happy Hour munchies every once in a while. Listen to what they really have to say for a change. That would improve schools, and morale, for goodness sakes.

Oddly enough though, something came up today, during PD, that provoked some thought. The thing that came up was this, "What is success?" I honestly thought about that, in relation to our students, in relation to myself, in relation to society in general. Is there one overarching measure of success? Is success for one person, success for another? How can we measure success?

Mind you, in PD today, we were all required to swear that we honestly believe that all children can be successful, no exceptions. It's all a part of a movement, supposedly based on research that supposedly improves schools via "Positive Psychology." Does anyone really believe this crap? What planet are they from? I'm just getting over being required to read Who Moved My Cheese in another PD session. I can believe in kids ability to succeed all I want, but in a neighborhood like Back of the Yards there are some damaged children who will not live up to that expectation. All the love and believing in the world is not going to change that. Some of them will still go to prison. Some of them will still get shot. Some of them will live in awful poverty, living hand to mouth. Yet a great many of them will experience some degree of success. What is that?

For some kids success means that they will go on to college after high school and will eventually have a good job. For some of them it means they will go to a technical school after high school and that will lead to a respectable life. For some of them, being the first person in their family to graduate from high school is a success their parents never dreamed of.

Then there is the world I live in. For some people, it is enough to be happy. That begs another question, "What is happy?" For some Type A sorts, it means being richer and owning more stuff than anyone else. Remember the 1980's mantra? "He who dies with the most toys, wins." Ugly? Yes. A very real measure of success for some. Yes, as well. For some success means a PhD. For some it means being able to work at a job they like. For some it means pursuing their art and not "selling out to the man." I have met some people, for whom success means getting through the day without freaking out and committing suicide.

There are as many ways of being successful as there are people walking the face of this planet. Then the PD lady asks us all to swear that we believe that all students can be successful. The overarching tenor of society in the U.S. suggests that means all of them will make good money. Social worker sorts might suggest that means that all of them will be well adjusted, productive citizens and happy with their lot, and will stay out of prison or mental institutions. Some, more cynical sorts might suggest that it means that all of them will avoid really serious fuckups.

Truth? We, as educators, will try our level best to reach every one of them, and some of them just won't be reached. Some will do well. Some will die young. Some will live absolutely miserable existences. A great many will muddle through, like the rest of us. Somehow, in spite of it all, a poor kid from Arkansas ended up on the 14th floor with a lake view in Chicago. Somehow some of these kids will struggle and find their way as well.

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