“We should name it Perseverance,” said my daughter. I totally agree. But is that always laudable, our perseverance? Can it also be laughable?
We walked home together yesterday afternoon. Suspended across the entrance to our covered parking space was a spider, centered in her beautiful web, patiently waiting for dinner. The frame threads led to anchor points that spanned the entrance, connected above and below and on both sides. The hub where she sat was perfect, the threads parallel and unmarked. We marveled at the amount of work it takes to make a web.
My wife arrived home from work later, driving, and not knowing about the web, drove through it as she parked the car. Whoops! These things happen.
My daughter and I discovered the demise of the patient engineering later. She looked for any evidence of the web and the spider on the red hood of our VW Golf. Nothing doing, there wasn’t a trace. We shrugged and forgot about it.
Until this morning. Suspended in the air, anchored to the entrance and to our red car, was the frame of another enormous web, just as meticulously executed, the spider once again in the center of the hub, waiting for dinner. My daughter looked at me. “We should call it Perseverance.”
There’s a lesson here, I’m just not sure what it is. We like to teach about perseverance, and we should, and sometimes our schools are set up to support it (and often they are not). If at first you don’t succeed … keep trying, right?
My wife recently helped me climb out of a moment of self-pity and moping. I was lamenting the perceived mistreatment of innovative ideas in the drive to change schools and schooling. She reminded me that my interests and beliefs are in conflict with the way things are often done at school, that change is hard, that a change maker by definition was taking the path less traveled by. And that meant far greater chances for non-acceptance and disappointment.
“But it’s the only way I can imagine it worthwhile to work in education,” I lamely replied. There was a long pause. I suggested we go to the grocery store so we could quit talking about it. But I didn’t quit thinking about it. And she’s right, those of us interested in school reform in a meaningful way are indeed marching to a different beat and we should expect that other music will more often than not drown us out. But we march on.
Perseverance. A night’s work torn down during the banal act of parking a car. Yet she carried on, doing the thing she knows how to do best, building her web. That’s where I’d like to finish this story, right where she has made it despite all odds, catching her dinner in the newly constructed web, despite the adversity. But.
But in the long haul of school reform, when does perseverance start to feel a little ridiculous. I’m all for the power of yet (We haven’t made it … yet!), but what if we aren’t going to make it? What if we won’t, in the end, deliver schools where agency thrives and learning flows from the learner? What if top down push systems with carrot and stick motivation through tests and grades is the best we can do? Is rebuilding the web over and over, waiting at its center for results, really that laudable?
Later today one of us is going to back the car out of its spot. The spider’s work will be gone again. She’ll have to decide whether to spin another web or not. She may decide to pick up and move to a new location, pick a new cause, quit trying to win against a ton-and-a-half of automobile.
I know I shouldn’t take a cue from a spider, nor interpret her work as a sign, but it’s so hard to keep pushing for change. Will there, in fact, be a web there tomorrow?