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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

On Teaching: Part Two 

The Interminable Horror of Blank America

I love my students -- I don't say it often and (because) I feel cheesy when I do. But it's the gods' truth. Anyone who's been in my class (or seen the sweat I pour into it) knows and will admit as much. I know that teaching the young is why I am on the planet, and I believe there is no one who does it better than I. I get an indescribable joy from being with -- and bringing truth to -- my students.

And yet some days I find myself adrift in the backwash of what we might call Blank America: The America of Meh. Land of the bored and home of the whatever. Some days are overshadowed by a few exchanges whereby one or two people express their desire to be forever invisible: I dunno. I don't care. Leave me alone. I'm stupid. I heard a quote today that I wish I could post here.

Paulo Freire stressed the need for dialogue. He insisted that educators work with students to proceed together toward an ontology of developing humanity. But what do you do when the student not only refuses to engage in dialogue -- but insists that neither you nor he will gain in any way from it? How can the educator overlay experience with perspective to produce a combined narrative of purpose when the individual in question refuses to accept that any of his experience is worthwhile?

I don't have trouble working with the hardcore gangsta-types, or the students with learning disorders or what have you. But when I come face to face with the existential horrors of a society which convinces its young that they don't matter -- that they might not even exist, for it's certainly as well that they don't -- my mind reels with infinite dread.

Sure, I'm only dealing with a handful of people here; I don't have any illusions that this problem is indicative of the Future of Our Society or anything. But the existence of the possibility simply crushes me. I am an empathetic person -- I always and immediately and forever imagine myself in the souls of others. And my flesh cracks when I position myself in such a mind, drained of imagination and dulled to only the most abject of impulses.

Never mind about how such a soul fares on the standardized test -- what about the much more important cost of living an existence without meaning? My inclination is to shrink away, to say "Well, it sucks, but ultimately it's up to him." And of course, it is. But how can I sleep with the notion of my own reticence? Isn't this hesitation at the core of our civilization's woes? Isn't the struggle about some sort of wakening?

Can you force-feed someone red pills?


Tiny Plaid Ninjas Part III. I haven't even watched it -- I'm too bummed out. The other ones were pretty good.

Today I'm listening to: Babbletron.