I’m at Victoria Station today, trying to write. Yesterday, in terms of writing, was a totally failed day. I didn’t get anywhere that I wanted to get in terms of writing. On the other hand, I had a lengthy conversation with a former student via iChat, a longer conversation with a potential student in person, and a couple of poems done. A good day’s work, even without much writing.
Both conversations I had yesterday revolved around issues of time management, creativity and excellence. I find that I’m really happy to have read Forrest’s book On the Four Powers while I was out in Colorado. Also Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The two together are proving really useful in having these conversations.
In the in-person conversation, the issue of “what do we teach them in these schools?” came up. told the story in her journal yesterday about a waitress who couldn’t subtract $1.50 from a bill of under $10.00. Josh told me about a guy who couldn’t write; another student of mine has his driver’s license and can’t read much beyond street signs. And many of my former students get into trouble with drugs, with alcohol, or being unable to finish school — whether high school or college.
Somehow, what we have been teaching is dysfunctionality. Students are getting through school on the basis of their own put-togetherness, in spite of what we teach them. Which means that we — that I — am genuinely failing them. That worries me.
Theophane the monk tells a story which may be relevant. A priest goes on retreat to the Magic Monastery. There is a monk there, he says, who never provides answers, only questions. The priest asks him for a question, and the question is, “What do they need?” The priest goes back to his room, and writes for several hours, trying to get through his head what it is that they need. He comes to the realization that he really wanted to work on his own spiritual life, and not the life of his congregation. He returns to the questioning monk, and says, “I’m sorry to bother you again. Yet while your question was helpful, I really want to work on my own spiritual life. Do you have a question to help me with my own spiritual life?” And the monk says, “Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t understand your request the first time around. If you want to work on your own spiritual life, the question I asked before is totally the wrong one. The right question is, “What do they really need?”
This is the question I’m thinking about this morning, rather than my WWGS assignment. What do my students really need? I’ve been assuming that that what they need is a sense of history, the movement of places and peoples, the geography and the timeline of world events. I’ve been assuming that they need to know how to write, to read.
Yes, they need all that. It’s expected, it’s what the curriculum requires. But is it what they really need? What if what they really need is license to dream, permission to be creative, self-discipline to be organized, the right to pursue their own interests, and a diploma in self-hood? It’s as though there’s an official curriculum, the history and the English and the Latin (names and dates, indefinite articles and subjunctive clauses), and an unofficial curriculum, in self-management, in study skills, in creativity, in personal growth, in developing one’s abilities.
In essence, what I want to teach is a course in miracles. In using magic and mystery to turn one’s life into beauty. And that strikes me as a worthwhile goal. Any objections, comments, questions, concerns?