I Stepped in a Steaming Pile of Indoctrination

I am participating in Seth Godin’s altMBA. The point of the altMBA is to challenge preconceptions, expand what you expect from yourself and embrace innovation and change as non-negotiable parts of a being a Linchpin member of your community. It is a counterpoint to formal education. On a recent altMBA project (translation — too big of a project with too little time), I stepped right into a pile of my old indoctrination.

I reverted to seeing that the point of our project was to read the directions, execute based on the instructor’s perspective of what is important, support and reflect the instructor’s perspective for a better “grade” and get your shit done on time. ON TIME!

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We are taught from an early age that you will be rewarded if you follow directions and trust authority. I was an apt pupil.

To make matters worse, empathy is a strength of mine. Getting into other people’s heads and looking for patterns is something I do compulsively. Learning the structure of school and what gets you rewarded became second nature to me. I learned to see education as transactional. I give you what you want and you give me the coveted A. Cha-ching!

I have a crystal-clear memory, as late as grad school, of analyzing what the “tough teacher” liked. I looked at the examples of student work that she highlighted, subjects she lingered on, areas of my early papers that garnered favor and the topics she referenced more than once. I then crafted my final project work around LGBTQ issues, personal transformation and the dirty, messy gossip-worthy aspects of relationships. You better believe I got an A.

At no point did I do this with a sense of disingenuousness. I was playing out my indoctrination. Give them what they want. If you get an education in the meantime, good for you. But that’s not the point.

On the other side of this, are the teachers that see right through you. The ones that use your indoctrination to plant a seed in the hopes that someday you might escape your bonds. My high school English Lit teacher impacts my life more and more every day. Marna Schultz would hand me back a paper littered in red edit marks and at the top have a large A with a generous comment. She let me know I didn’t give her exactly what she wanted, but that was okay. I was still worth the A. She also, so gently, planted a seed of human grace in all of us through the books she opened our minds to.

All Quiet on the Western Front taught us to look through our “enemy’s” eyes. The Scarlet Letter warned of denying love for social acceptance. Metamorphosis showed what might happen if you do indeed pursue your true self. A Doll’s House (we learned about the original ending) showed that people had been breaking gender roles for generations, and paying for it.

The message was, “You don’t have to be what we ask of you, but there will be consequences for walking your own path. You have been warned. And encouraged.” Amid the ultimate indoctrination was a dangerous message of freedom.

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If I had my altMBA project to do all over again, I would like to see myself look at our circumstances and ask, “What do I want to get out of this?” Look at what the teacher is asking. Look at the reality of our situation (short on team members and directly relevant experience). Then have us decide for ourselves, what education can we can get from this. It sure as fuck wasn’t for me to throw my marketing experience around and steamroll the direction of the project.

Done over again, I’d ask my brilliant partners what they want. I would ask them to review the directions of the assignment with me to understand the lessons the instructor wants us to get. With that in mind, I would dig for the experience we could have that would make our lives better. We really did rock the project. I’m just not sure we all got what we wanted out of it, because we never asked that crucial question.

To my future teachers, I will endeavor to listen to your recommendations with great care. Then I will do my best to decide for myself what education I will pursue from your assignment.

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