What’s the point?
What it means to be an educator in 2020
At a time when Covid-19 is provoking a radical re-appraisal of almost all our assumptions, Daniel Shindler asks some important questions about teaching, and the point of being an educator.
A lawyer at a dinner party famously asked the teacher and poet, Taylor Mali,
‘What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?’
I won’t spoil the fun, watch Taylor’s ‘kick–ass’ reply on YouTube or read his poem What teachers make that ends with,
Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?
But perhaps the lawyer did ask the right question for the times we live in. What does it mean to be an educator in 2020? It’s a question all those stressed out parents who have struggled to home school their children have started to consider. So in the same feisty spirit, I offer some thoughts to the parents, teachers who are searching for the arguments, to haul their children, their colleagues, back, when they walk out of the room shouting, ‘What’s the point of it all?’
Because we are alive
Lockdown or not, you’ve got a choice: pull the duvet over your head, go play on your phone. The point is, because life is there: either one tests oneself by taking on its challenges, or as the American activist, Saul Alinsky once wrote, ‘huddle in the valleys of a dreamless day-to-day existence’. As my own coach said to me when I could see no point to any of it, ‘Daniel, the point is to find the point.’
Understanding what it takes
When confronting yourself in the face of a complex challenge, do you fight, or take flight? The pandemic may be provoking either one of these reactions. Allow Martin Luther King’s call to arms to awaken the giant within you:
‘We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.’
Taking up the challenge is what’s going to make people take you seriously. It’s time to do the work.
To name the world
To paraphrase Freire, human beings are not built in silence. To exist, as fully participating human beings, is to name the world, and to look at all those different worlds you exist in. The possibilities are infinite. What worlds will your curriculum explore when you return to the classroom? Will it be possible to divide the private from the public self? Or, should we now live in the intersection where the two meet? It’s here where I have lived in teaching.
10 Concepts About PAULO FREIRE’s Pedagogy | All You Need To Know
You’ll need to throw away your ‘cool cards’, drop the shields that protect, if you’re to show up. For the writer, Brene Brene, ‘Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.’
The physician, Gabor Mate warns us, ‘Boredom is rooted in a fundamental discomfort with ourselves, it is one of the least tolerable mental states’. As many of us have discovered, sitting around doing not a lot, isn’t good for our health. Quite simply, people who are optimistic and resilient do better in their exams, they are 20% more likely to live longer and I’m sure have found a way to live in the pandemic.
The marvel of being one
But perhaps there’s a bigger, moral reason for our work as teachers. Peter Brook captures it exactly when defining the purpose of theatre, ‘At certain moments in life, this fragmented world comes together and for a certain time it can rediscover the marvel of being one.’ We need this in our school communities, right now.
The writer, Mark Manson asks, ‘What is the pain that you want to sustain?’
Unlikely though it seems, this is the question that can change your life. Your answer will actually get you somewhere. Who you are is defined by the values you are willing to struggle for. This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes.
Without struggle there can be no progress. It’s the difference between a classroom that’s alive and classroom that’s dead.
Walking towards certainty
Finally, perhaps our ‘What’s the Point’ conversation really arises from our fear of uncertainty. It’s worth wrestling with Freire who asks us to nurture, ‘A spirit in which we are certain by not being certain of our certainties. To the extent that we are not quite sure about our certainties, we begin to “walk toward” certainties.’
During the lockdown, all our certainties have been challenged once again. We have to begin, once more, the ‘walk toward’ if we are to make sense of what we now know. The point is to find the point.