Cultivators of the Spirit

Teaching, sowing the seeds of culture and civilization into minds old and young. That is pretty much the pretty picture they would dearly have you believe, the sales pitch to get you into the pedagogic business.

Oh, we poor devils.

Teaching, fighting an uphill battle against apathetic, uppity students and their cutthroat parents. The metaphorical right to bear arms in class has long since been relinquished, given up as a relic of a more barbarous era; no longer is there a single, sovereign leader clad in the vestments of authority. Rather, in the radiant path of chairman Mao’s footsteps, an age of student democracy has dawned, banishing into the night the dreadful times of autocracy. Problems, as our respected sociologists have demonstrated in all their infallibility, stem not from the destructive urges and impulses of youth struggling to make sense of themselves, the world and life – instead, the teacher is to blame for the failures of all, for is it not on the teacher’s responsibility to see to it that everyone learns on their own terms? Is it not the very essence of pedagogics to cater to each and everone’s needs as a student? Is not, as father Nietzsche says, ‘the strong impulse to punish to be distrusted?’

Droning, screaming, violence, threats to person and property, slander, defamation, work overtime without pay. Wrestle with ethics as good grades bring money and vacancy irregardless as to what a student’s actual skill level might be. Sleep soundly knowing that every day the phone might ring, gently urging you to clean your desk.

There has once been a time, some two thousand years ago, when it was the other way around. Teachers, being mostly self-styled sophists or locally recognized erudites, would choose their own students and enter an agreement of sorts – they would teach whatever and however they saw fit for whatever price they agreed on, and should the youngling not learn a thing, that would just be too bad for them. Of course, even in those times they had their reputation to consider to which repeated failure and association with dimwits certainly did more woe than weal. Still, theirs was a position of authority – parents, mostly of the nobility of yore, typically understood to keep their distance. After all, the desired product was an independent, learned man worthy of his freedom and citizenship – parental guidance and meddling would have only served in cultivating an atmosphere of passivity.

And to think that I actually have some faith in the modern society. The view I just presented is, of course, morbidly romanticized as is proper for a philhellenic – yet at the same time, I believe, in this eidolon of beauty there still is something viable for our time. As is already painstakingly evident, the foundations of parenting and pedagogics have always been in a state of flux (what has not, really?). Despite the current, well-fostered culture of entrepreneurship and the eternal pursuit of happiness, it strikes me dumb as to how parents nowadays see their part in raising up their independent tumors – for them the great task is to provide enough resources for sending the kid off to a reputable school which then takes care of almost the rest. That shouldn’t be too difficult, really; life’s basically the same as one’s career, I have been told. Surely, too, we all have heard the humorous anecdotes: a father filing a complaint after the teacher refused applying deodorant into his son’s armpit after gym class, a couple suing the teacher for teaching ‘too hard mathymytics.’ The situation, then, is as follows: we do not want to raise this being, yet when you try to do it for us, we punish you when you fail to meet our standards. Our standards are always the best, because we are the parents, no one knows this being better than us. We raise- oops, scratch that.

Responsibility’s a funny thing. Like suicide, it works both ways. In this case, it appears to me as a burden which, when successfully carried until the end, merits some sort of a reward, be it money, adoration, a title, whatever. Applied to the rant above this produces a picture in which parents give up or ‘delegate’ their responsibility to teachers and school staff, yet they still expect to retain all the goodies and rights that this responsibility brings. A metaphor about eating cakes and possessing them comes to mind, mind you.

Teaching, like all human activity, can obviously not stay immutable as time goes on – and the thing with change is that it often is accompanied by pain, however temporary it may be. Pain breeds fear, and after a merry cycle we find ourselves on the dark side. More seriously put, pedagogics may well be living through a pseudo-Kuhnian period of ‘crisis science’ – faced with the obvious pressure from the clientele and the lack of innovations, each must find their own answers, some in the form of older doctrines while others in that of new theories and practices. It is said that people have not changed since time immemorial, yet society certainly has. As pedagogics is the bread and butter of socialization, the art of producing new and beautiful citizens, it would be both stagnating and utterly destructive to cease seeking new venues and approaches. In addition, it would serve the purpose to keep the lessons previously learned clearly in mind, for if the thesis of homo immutabilis is true to a certain extent, then solutions once valid might still be applicable today.

From this rambling basically two things can be divined. One is that teachers, at least where I live, are pressed hard, too hard in my opinion, in producing society-worthy young adults with minimal support and constant budget cuts. The other is that while the situation is grim, the problem somewhat fulfills Hilbert’s description of a ‘good problem’ – something difficult enough to warrant our interest, yet at the same time simple enough so as to not elude our comprehension.

Crisis often attracts those capable of providing answers and solutions – the fact that this may well be ‘abused’ as an induced scenario is best left for later considerations. Regrettably, until these new Deweys arise, the cultivators of the spirit may little else but carry on.

For those literate in Finnish or Google Translate, a telling item of news:

http://yle.fi/uutiset/gustafsson_kouluille_kurinpitosuunnitelmat/6253787?origin=rss

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