Pack Your Shit and Leave

I've been relapsing these last few days, I know, but I haven't given up on blogging just yet. I won't pretend school's been holding me back, it would not only be a poor excuse, but also a lie. What's been chugging my time and attention is a serious, deeply rooted issue in our current work culture.

At Pré-Universitário Comunitário Rubem Alves, we work extenuatingly hard to provide our students with the absolutely very best education we can afford, at a nearly zero cost for them. In fact, we have never turned away a student, even if they could not even afford the bus fare to arrive at our project. We take education quite seriously, and we spare no effort to make them safer, wiser, and more dedicated than ever.

Or so I wish. The project as a whole is being kept alive by the three coordinators and a handful of highly dedicated teachers that keep on coming up with innovative ways of learning and culture. Unfortunately, this means that the organization has reached its maturity, and the seeds of decay have found a place to grow. A productive work culture can not resist against the combined efforts of Mediocrity, Impunity, and Neglect. That's why the saying claims "excellence is a practice, not a goal". Every time continuous improvement is not being applied, the organization is exposing itself to Mediocrity, Impunity, and Neglect, and lunging forward to its own demise.

There are several pre-college schools in this city, both private, public, and non-profit ones. Private schools are result-focused and can charge as much as they like to achieve those results. When talking about costs, I'm not talking about just money, quite the opposite, actually. By considering as results the sheer number of successful enrollments, these schools are capitalizing on the devaluation of our young citizens, an ethic value that I deem unsustainable for a developing country. Yet, this voracious drive for results and the constant need to attract children of the wealthiest social classes prevent them from succumbing to Mediocrity, Impunity, and Neglect, and they are reflected into the longstanding existence of those institutions, several of them have long past 50 years of continuous activity.

Public pre-college schools are usually created for political purposes and, once stablished, they're unlikely to go away, as long as someone is willing to fund them. Staff is provided tenure at their jobs and, as such, quickly becomes resilient to change. Work culture improvements are few and far between, especially if there's even a slight suggestion of increased workload for any of the involved parties. These schools are immune to the consequences of Mediocrity, Impunity, and Neglect, because they have decided - in a subconscious, but fully consensual fashion - to wholeheartedly embrace them. Of course, a public school worker would never admit it, especially a teacher or a principal. But offer them the means of sending their kids to a private school of their choice and you'll watch how gladly they will accept them. By stating that their mission is to help the ones who need them the most, what they really mean is that they are only there to help the ones who have no other choice.

Which leads to the third alternative: social or non-profit pre-college schools, which rose in popularity in the last decade precisely because private schools had became too expensive to afford and public schools, too ineffective to trust. At projects such as ours, we are free from the shackles of capitalism and governmental bureocracy, allowing people like me to develop their own visions of what education is supposed to represent. My students are not, and will never be, required to fork out disgusting amounts of cash to have access to an education they find worthy of themselves, and they are also not, and will never be, pushed to our school because they feel they have no other choice. If one of them ever becomes displeased with our services, there are multiple ways of resolving conflicts: one can join the Project to change the culture from the inside; push demands to management and meet us to achieve a plausible compromise; congregate classmates to pressure us for improvements; and, if none of the previous suffice, one can leave for another school - there are plenty of us to shop around for. I am glad to state that has not been the case so far: I have students who have spent several thousands of dollars in private pre-college schools highly regarded as top-notch, had a subpar experience, and decided to turn to us. In fact, I have students currently enrolled in many of those schools, and they also attend to our classes, often lauding our structure as flexible, accessible, and inviting.

Well, then why am I writing this rant essay? Because, while I don't have to fight for profits or political allegiances, I do have to fight for survival. I fight to withstand Mediocrity, Impunity, and Neglect. I fight to remind everyone in there that we are not a charity. We are an educational project that is meant to be built collectively, and that everyone is required to pull their own weight. We are a place to make mistakes, for sure, but proactive mistakes, honest mistakes, learning mistakes. We are not, and we should not be, tolerant with mistakes caused by Mediocrity, Impunity, and Neglect.

Of course, it's inhuman to expect everyone to give 110% every time, and it has never been a practice of ours. But you know what's even more inhuman? To fool hundreds of young adults into spending their time with us while providing a service on standards that they would never accept for their own. Our quest for Excellence is a full-time job, we have no time for Mediocrity, Impunity, and Neglect. Please take them elsewhere. If you are only willing to give your own leftovers, please make us and yourself a favor: pack your shit and leave.

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