The other day, I pulled up to a fast-food joint, trying to grab a quick bite.1
I ordered the value meal2, but I quit drinking soda a year or so ago, so I asked if I could just have water. I didn’t mind getting charged for it, I told the disembodied voice out my car window, I just wanted to not have a soda. Could they please, I asked, just put water in the cup?
The gentleman at the other end of the speaker wasn’t able to help me. When I made the initial request, he got quiet, and I heard the electronic beep of buttons pushing, and then he told me that he couldn’t not give me a soda.
The system, he said, wouldn’t let him do otherwise.
I argued this for a minute or two. Could you type in “Sprite” or something, but just, you know, fill the cup up with water? Or just put water in a cup and hand it to me with the burrito and tots?
Nope. The system just wouldn’t allow it.
Being someone who can’t support systems that won’t let folks do things, I drove off without making a purchase.
As I think now about the beginning of a new school year, the first one in fifteen years I’m experiencing as an observer, I’m wondering about the systems you might find yourselves in.
Do you work, promote, or build systems – in your classroom, school district, or organization – that allow for choice and change? Or do you work, promote or build systems that are lockstep systems, systems predetermined to know the answers that resist and/or require participants in them to remain locked in? Does your system, instead of your judgment, shape all the interactions that occur within it? When can the system be overridden, and how often do you do so?
And if you are in a system that’s locked down and doesn’t allow for change or choice, how are you going to resist or challenge that system this school year?
How will you teach your students to resist such systems, too?
I’m asking for me, but I’m also asking for my children. I don’t ever want them to find themselves in a situation where they can’t do something they might like to do because “the system won’t allow it.” Worse yet, I can’t fathom them becoming people who are bound from doing what’s right or better or good because they feel stuck inside a “system” that’s beyond their control.
And I suspect you don’t want that for your students or children, either.