Freedom: a presentation to my students

August 28, 2010

(I read this piece to my wife who commented: “it’s very good, but you’ve got to get passed the fact that they don’t listen to teachers – and your just another teacher!”)

I became a teacher because I believe that the only freedom that we have in life is the freedom to think for ourselves and I wanted to help people reach this freedom.

The Buddha said “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

School is a system: projects, tests, grades, within which what we are doing can be forgotten; you use your intelligence to survive: do what is necessary to survive the system and live your lives in the space around it, detached from the process.

I make life difficult for you because I want you to be completely involved in the process for you. We cannot learn unless we are engaged.

Ask yourself:

  • What do I want to know?
  • What do I need to know?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What are the habits that I fall into that block my development?
  • How do I perceive myself and how do I think other people perceive me?

Amusement and distraction do not lead to satisfaction. Satisfaction comes from the absorption and effort that lead to mastery.

During your schooling you have been labelled: intelligent, mediocre or stupid: gifted or useless. These are just labels, but labels that affect our performance: much research shows that students that are told that they are good do better that those who are told that they are poor (Robert Rosenthal): teachers told that some students are gifted behave differently to these students.

I begin to glimpse your narratives (this is, after all, supposed to be a narrative course!): the behaviours that you develop to deal with school and the world. Do you see them? You are, as my wife said, “socialized to accept the system: it’s a “norm”, can I reach you beyond that norm?

Fuck it, lets get passed this shit, stop playing our parts and learn something!



August 19, 2010

A class is like a herd of powerful wild young horses: full of energy and potential, lacking in discipline and concrete aim: easily frightened. Some are weak and shot of breath, others stronger and faster than me. Left to themselves they will roam wildly in all directions, turning at each new stimulus. Some will just eat grass; others will lose themselves in the landscape, some will find their way.

I can dominate this group: fence them in and refuse to let them run until they have learned to obey and walk in the way I wish.

I can tie them all together and lead them slowly along a path.

But, what I hope to do is gather their attention and use the energy of the heard to create a rhythm that heads them all towards a common goal and ride on their backs; only needing to nudge them occasionally back on to the path, pointing out landmarks to reach on the way to keep their enthusiasm.

Entering a class after the holidays, I found again all those elements that aren’t in my careful planning: the energy or inertia of a class: the expectations and the prejudgments. The powerful personalities and habits of each individual.

I also meet my own insecurity: I teach full time and I work in an area that is always evolving and changing. Do I know enough? Can I be convincing to students that have little perception of “wisdom and experience”?

There I saw that the point is not to teach, but to provide the environment where students can succeed. Harness and use their energy to advance as I imagined in my metaphor. If I can teach anything it is how to evaluate themselves and the information that they find and how to be clearer in their communication with themselves and others.

To teach that life is a journey, not a race!