The School Answer


The School Answer is found in the textbook. It's written on the chalkboard. It's what the teacher tests you on. 

And if 2020 has taught us anything, we need less School Answers ...and more divergent, critical, adaptive thinking than ever.

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This week, as on-duty police detective, I walked through a few grade schools during scheduled "lockdown" drills -- the sorts that prepare students and staff for active shooter events.  The schools were operating under a "hybrid" model, where 25% of the students were inside the building. It was my first time inside public schools since the great COVID shutdown of Spring 2020. 

Holy crap! Sorta creepy. But also pleased at their out-of-the-box solutions. 

Half the classrooms had taken on new use as makeshift storage facilities. They were filled with stacked-up desks, tables, and chairs -- from adjacent classrooms operating at reduced capacity. In the corners of some of these storage rooms sat lonely teachers, behind their webcams, doing e-learning with the kids at home. 

Gymnasiums and cafeterias had been transformed into spread-out classrooms too. (When you're only there half-days, you don't get the luxury of physical education or lunchtime!) 

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As part of workplace training, I'm currently enrolled in a ten (10)-week online class. From what I've been told, its format is near-identical to how colleges and universities handle online classes. 

My 50-student class uses a mix of a platform called Blackboard and video conferencing via MS-Teams.  The syllabus outlines: weekly reading assignments, synchronous video lectures, office hours, mandatory bulletin board posts, group projects, and an individual capstone presentation. Balancing the course demands with an already hectic workload and home-life has been quite rough. 

What's the course topic? Criminal Intelligence Analysis. 

It would be an understatement to call myself an "outsider." I've deduced that I'm among the oldest, most senior in experience, least academic/educated, highest "ranking" (promotion-wise), oddly self-taught in complexity & cognitive issues, and...have absolutely NO formal training in the course topic! Oh yeah...and I'm not an analyst. 

I'm not seeking sympathy or making excuses. Not at all. I think many of these attributes put me in a good place...

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I've watched how various schools have handled the COVID pandemic. I obviously live in an area with public schools. My own children attend a private school. Lastly, I supervise School Resource Officers in two (2) districts. 

There is very little consistency in how these different organizations have responded to the pandemic.

A single School Answer simply does not exist when figuring out how to educate our kids. 

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What happens when you challenge The School Answer?

In my online course, I'm trying to figure that out. 

I closely monitor the digital bulletin board, examining what my peer students post and how they engage with classmates and instructors. Bluntly, most of the posts are academic regurgitations (meticulously cited, of course) of the training materials. I don't even know how to cite my sources...I've resorted to hyperlinks...like a blogger. ;)

Have these younger students been conditioned through their academic lives on how to write in this formal education environment? It's been a while since I was in school...plus I gravitated towards math and science (and avoided anything that required writing and reading). 

Frankly, my passing or completion of this class has very little consequences on my career. I'm not even sure my boss knows I'm participating! So, I've decided to push the limits, offer counter-perspectives, and challenge The School Answer. I have extremely little to lose by taking the risk-taking approach. 

The response has been somewhat predictable:

Most of the persons I assumed might engage with my style...have. I made snap judgments on students by way of their introductory posts. I based this on their experience, their non-academic style of writing, and overall personality interjected into their post(s). "Birds of a feather..."

Most my questions or challenges have gone ignored. I attribute much of this to the fact that the students have already published their mandatory post (250-word minimum) and two (2) replies to others. Done. I get it...people are busy. Why continue to engage with the weird guy? Maybe my stuff is so off-the-wall that I'm not "connecting with their edges?"

I receive private and supportive emails from students about my posts and comments. I wonder if it's to hide the engagement from instructors -- so they can retain The School Answer facade while still straying with me a bit...? (Don't be caught hanging out with the class troublemaker, right?)

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, I've considered that the instructors and other students may see me as a disruptive, loud-mouthed, over-replying, know-it-all contrarian. (They might be right.) Engaging might encourage or give credibility where none is deserved.  

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Going back to the mid-1980's, I was probably the kid who always raised his hand in the classroom. I got really good grades. I knew how to recite The School Answer. 

It wasn't until my mid-30s that I began a journey into the autodidactic realm of sense-making, complexity, and adaptability. It challenged my bias towards objectivity, by exposing inherent subjectivity, tension, and tradeoffs in the real world. You know...outside the classroom. 

And now I find myself in a game -- to balance The School Answer with what else I've learned about uncertainty, unpredictability, and creativity. 

Ironically, so might our formal school systems. They're bucking Team Status Quo too. 

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Lou Hayes, Jr. is a criminal investigations & intelligence unit supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. With a passion for training, he studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on LinkedIn, & also the LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model

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