Friday Philosophy: Pushing Back the Boundaries

Sometimes we start with an intention to address one idea and someone insists that another idea be spoken, even if that person doesn’t know it or intend to do so.  Wandering can sometimes be productive.  But sometimes not.

Be forewarned.

Central to much of my teaching philosophy is the following concept:

Learning is not a race.  It’s not a contest between individuals.  Students who are competing against each other…or against their teacher…for grades are missing the point of education.

As a student my task, as I understand it now…and maybe I understood it then as well…was to compete with myself to learn more.  And better.  To push back the boundaries of my own ignorance.  And to try to remember that we each possess so much ignorance that even when everyone is striving to push back those boundaries, we will rarely all be pushing in the same direction.

I will never stop being a student.

As a teacher it has been my job to encourage students to push back those boundaries, to try to grab a small amount of attention in a small amount of time to all try to push in as close to the same direction as we possibly can.  As a teacher, I have striven never to be the foe of my students, but rather their teammate in the cooperative venture we have joined in.  As a teacher my foe has been willful ignorance, the choice to not know what could be learned.

About the only thing that causes me more pain than willful ignorance is people who use their knowledge for immoral/self-serving purposes.  Thus I spend a major portion of my life in pain.

Maybe that’s one of the Lessons, we are supposed to learn.  Or maybe it’s just a lesson I am supposed to learn.  How would I know what anyone else is supposed to learn about life?  We’re born, we eat, we excrete, maybe reproduce, and then we die.  And along the way we/re allowed to learn things.  Maybe we’re even required to do so.  How would I know?  But learning can’t be a bad thing, as I see it.

Maybe that’s another lesson:  I shouldn’t judge anyone by my standards except myself.  They have their own standards to live up to.  And I shouldn’t try to live up to anyone else’s standards at the expense of sacrificing my own.  Been there, done that.  For too many years.

Of course, there have to be some common standards in order to have a somewhat orderly society.  There are, after all, those people who intentionally use knowledge to harm others.  One of the lessons I learned was that I have to speak up when that happens…even when it would be much easier to walk away.  I fail as a human being if I don’t, at the very least, speak up.  

Willful ignorance is tougher.  In the face of ignorance, every instinct tells me to first learn and then teach.  That’s what being a teacher is.  But isn’t trying to teach someone who refuses to learn doing damage to that person?  And first do no harm?  It’s tough trying to measure the damage done to the individual who intentionally chooses to remain ignorant versus the damage that might be done to the rest of us by not challenging that choice.

I mean, who am I to make such a decision?  I’m just a teacher…

…and a human being.


Flicker of Hope

Choice of Methods

Sometimes

we speak up

or more

challenge the darkness

force it away

manhandle it

back to its origin

Or we can

light a candle

hold it high

for those

who wish to see

and hold it long

in the hopes

it will eventually

be noticed

by those who don’t

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–April 25, 2008

49 comments

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    • Robyn on April 26, 2008 at 12:02 am
      Author

    Maybe this will have some effect.  Perhaps not.  Even probably not.  People apparently see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear.

    And learn only what they wish to learn.

    How’s that for cryptic?

    Robyn

    • pfiore8 on April 26, 2008 at 12:09 am

  1. yesterday and after doing some housework I watched a history channel piece on the reformation.

    I actually had to explain to somebody I worked with in very simple terms what it was. It was kind of depressing, I thought that was required high school history.

    America had a very profound anti-intellectual strain that is wrongly associated with elitism. I think of continuing education as the path to being a better person or at least being vaguely less ignorant.

    My father is a retired teacher. He never retired, he now does private tutoring and he thinks he is a better teacher at 78 than he was a 40.

  2. “I order to be happy in this world, there are vast parts of yourself you must kill.”

    • kj on April 26, 2008 at 4:44 am

    tomorrow before i get to this!  {{{Robyn}}}

    • kj on April 27, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    is a powerful force. it is, at times, barely distinguable from acceptance.

    This is a question for our time, Robyn:

    Willful ignorance is tougher.  In the face of ignorance, every instinct tells me to first learn and then teach.  That’s what being a teacher is.  But isn’t trying to teach someone who refuses to learn doing damage to that person?  And first do no harm?  It’s tough trying to measure the damage done to the individual who intentionally chooses to remain ignorant versus the damage that might be done to the rest of us by not challenging that choice.

    I mean, who am I to make such a decision?  I’m just a teacher…

    …and a human being.

    • kj on April 27, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    by any measure, to be considered a religious person, although my upbringing was steeped in Catholicism. (long story, for another time.) but i am a seeker, and experiment in traditions. (if something works, i keep it.) in that framework, let me admit now that i spent a decade steeping my thoughts in The Course in Miracles.  did it all, read that dense, dense, dense tome, the workwork twice, etc. etc. etc.  One of its many sentences (my gawd, did that thing need an editor!) presented the idea that all unasked for advice is attack.

    now that, to me, was/is an interesting thought, and entirely on point in this essay. i can’t say i follow that 100 percent, but it gives me pause sometimes.

      • Robyn on April 26, 2008 at 1:33 am
        Author

      …is quite often the important part.  Details can be looked up if we know they exist.  If we know how and where to look them up, all’s good.

    • kj on April 27, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    speaking of melancholy… that’s a gift i wouldn’t trade for anything!  🙂

    1. You know it is not personal, right?

      Here comes the hammer, brace yourself.

      What if you woke up that morning and found out that instead of you…..you were an African teenager who was about to get a cliterectomy so you could be married off to a disgusting fat guy twice your age because he had your bride price….which your family desperately needed since half your family had been killed in tribal warfare, and all the men were dead…so the fields had died for lack of tending because water had to be carted in due to the drought that had been going on for five years and the famine had already killed most of your sisters’ children, so the only choice was to sell you to the highest bidder to get enough money for the rest of the family to survive the summer….

      And going to a Broadway play to cheer up was pretty much out of the question.

      Just as an example….

    • kj on April 27, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    all i can add to this, whether to teach, or not, whether to attempt to pry open the willfully blinded eyes… are examples of the times i’ve tried.  especially these last few years.  i would say the immediate response to my attempts would be classed as failures.  no willfully closed mind opens without some bit of aggression.  but what seed might have been tossed in while i either stood my ground or ran for the hills, depending on your point of view… LOL… that i have no control over nor is it doubtful i’ll know about in this lifetime.  i am not sorry for any of the times i tried.  i also recognize the futility in expecting to see any results.  i also acknowledge those attempts disrupted relationships beyond easy repair.

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