[Batman (in the most Batman voice imaginable)]: Okay. Get yourself ready for some…reading. “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change. Hooo.” (the screen credits Michael Jackson with the quote). No. I said that. (Jackson’s name is immediately removed and credit is given to Batman) Batman is very wise. I also have huge pecs and a nine-pack. Yeah, I’ve got an extra ab. Now, let’s start the movie.
My kids have been obsessed with The LEGO Batman Movie for what seems like months and I have heard the above quote that begins the film countless times. All things considered, there are worse movies they could want to watch on repeat, and in fact, it’s probably my favorite DC Comics movie. The film tells the story of an isolated and brooding Batman (like there’s any other kind) learning that he can no longer be the hero that he wants to be, but instead must be the hero that the city needs. (And that friends are the best!) We’ll come back to this.
This past week I attended USAC training in Charlotte. The deficiencies of the current trainings have been well-noted, so I am not going to belabor the topic other than to say that the attendance was the smallest I have seen at any USAC training. Trainings have changed and they have devolved into what USAC wants training to be, instead of the training that applicants need (Batman tie-in #1).
But why is this the case? I have a bold theory as to why the trainings have been reduced to generic EPC walkthroughs and questions being taken for later consideration and answered “off-the-air”.
Not specifically me, per se, but people like me. The ones taking copious notes hoping that the presenters say something that they can later use against them. The ones live-tweeting the event hoping to take a speaker’s misstep public. The ones expecting USAC to run as a machine rather than ran by a group of well-meaning, yet fallible, human beings.
USAC training has grown staid, but if we want to see a change, we may need to start with the man in the mirror (Batman tie-in #2).
If we want USAC trainings to return to the days of open discourse and candid discussion on hypothetical situations, we attendees must extend grace to the presenters and allow them to deliver information with a candor that Twitter and social media have crushed into apparent extinction. If the presenter says something that doesn’t sound exactly right, we need to be the ones going to the microphone and allowing them to clarify rather than feverishly typing out the quotes on our phones for later use. If we want the presentations to be more meaningful and less like iron-clad scripts from machines, then we must treat the presenters like people and offer them the same grace that we would expect in a similar situation.
Let’s remember that E-rate isn’t easy. The level of comfort with the program will vary on individual experience and knowledge, but I have never heard anyone describe the program as easy. It’s not easy for new math teacher at a small charter school that inherited the role of E-rate account administrator. It’s not easy for the E-rate coordinator at a District serving 150,000 students at 50+ locations. It’s not easy for the library staff that is now thoroughly confused on what Internet drop-down to select on the Form 470. And it’s not easy for USAC staff. All deserve varying levels of grace in the process, but grace nonetheless.
At this point you may be thinking to yourself – But Nick, haven’t you been snarky in the past and used the angry face emoji to describe EPC and then compared it to a balsamic glazed onion masquerading as a date? Bit hypocritical don’t you think?
EPC is an angry-faced onion.
EPC was/is a long process with what I assume is a lot of cooks in the kitchen. We have a duty to point out flaws in EPC, in the program, and printed in the USAC News Briefs. But EPC and News Briefs aren’t a person speaking candidly with the goal of helping an applicant. If we want to get any meaningful training from USAC, we must allow the presenters to be human and share their perspectives, then ask them for clarification if necessary before we start a hashtag.
This shouldn’t be misconstrued as a love letter to USAC. I will still call EPC a big ol’ stinky onion. We will still point out flaws and discrepancies in the program and its procedures. We will still fight for applicants and if something seems wrong, we’ll still point them out. But at trainings, to bring back the trainings that applicants need, I’ll extend an olive branch, take a look at myself and make a change.