Tag Archives: teachers

Student Teacher

“I am not a writer, a philosopher, a great figure of intellectual life: I am a teacher.”—Michel Foucault

A friend said recently, “Maybe you just like to think a lot. It’s not a bad thing, just who you are. A lot of philosophers are writers.”

I found this statement odd at first. Am I a writer or a philosopher? Why can’t I be both? In fact I have been all along. It’s silly to separate the two.

Something’s going on beneath the surface when I’m writing and philosophizing. I’m teaching. In fact I’ve been teaching all along. This blog is full of questions. My book is an exercise in self-discovery and a search for meaning you can hold in your hands.

Foucault was a teacher, but he was also a writer, a philosopher and a great figure of intellectual life. He loved ideas. He had a tragic sense of humor, perfect for (post)modern living. Like all great teachers, he checked his ego at the door and listened before speaking.

I’m not a certified classroom teacher. Why can’t I become one? Because I assumed fifteen years ago I couldn’t handle it? Because running from a challenge was easier than taking it on? I’m in a different place now, but with the same personality, the same interests, the same worldview.

I haven’t written about my depression in a while. Have I learned (how) to live with it?

The universe is not impartial. The gods have no regrets. Fate doubles back to meet us where we’ve gone astray.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Meta-Blog, Philosophy

Friendly Confines

My dad liked to say that in life people are free to choose their own confinements. He chose to become a teacher and found himself confined to the classroom. He chose to become a father and when I arrived he built a life based around my mother and me.

I say that our confinements help us appreciate the limited amount of freedom we have. By becoming a teacher my dad was not a librarian or a fireman or starting first baseman for the Chicago Cubs. The classroom became his world. He was bound by district rules, standardized tests, report cards and textbooks. But he had the freedom to teach Hamlet or the five-paragraph essay as he saw fit. He encouraged students to follow their passions, even though as teens many thought little of the future.

I’ve heard a theory that the major events of our lives happen no matter the daily individual choices we make. My dad was in a way destined to teach—maybe not in Chicago, maybe not English—but still a teacher. Even after his initial dream of becoming a minister wasn’t realized, he wanted to help people—lifting their spirits, nourishing their minds. Minister or teacher—he was in the same ballpark.

Oftentimes we try too hard to force the action in our lives. We push for things we think we want, only to see them escape our grasp. Then there are those opportunities we never considered, appearing out of nowhere.

There’s power in submitting to the possibility that my life follows some kind of destiny. Accepting the will of the universe and learning to live with myself? How freeing.

2 Comments

Filed under Life, Philosophy

Destined To Be Free

“We do not know what we want, and yet we are responsible for what we are.” –Sartre

“Freedom of choice
Is what you’ve got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want”
—Devo

A brief sketch of Sartre’s basic assumptions regarding human reality, as found in Ashley Woodward’s Nihilism in Postmodernity (Aurora: The Davies Group, 2009):

We are each of us lack. The fact that we desire proves that human reality is lack.

We create existential projects in an attempt to overcome this lack.

We want security and freedom. We want to be free to make choices, but we also want to be a secure foundation for those choices.

“God is a self-consciousness and the necessary foundation of himself.” We, however, did not create our being.

Man is that being whose project is to be God. Man fundamentally is the desire to be God.

But the desire to be God is futile; it cannot be realized.

Thus all of our projects are futile: “It amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations.”

A possible path to overcoming nihilism: Sartre’s outline of “existential psychoanalysis.”

Human beings are motivated by the desire to be God when they are in unreflective or impure reflective states of consciousness.

At some point, in an unreflective or impure reflective state, we each make a choice regarding our specific project—but this choice is essentially the desire to be God and is thus futile.

We must create our own values, and freedom is the criterion that guides the creation of values. There is no God. There is no human nature. There is you choosing your life for yourself on your own terms.

Nihilism must be confronted in the personal life of the individual.

To be free, to be authentic, is to act, not simply think. Freedom is freedom only when it is exercised.

***

What interests me here is Sartre’s concept of the specific project. What is my specific project? As a child I wanted to be like my father, a high school English teacher. But I can’t handle the thought of teaching high school, mostly due to my severe depression and anxiety. My father was depressed. Did he teach me to be depressed? Was I bound to inherit my illness and thus not as free as Sartre imagines?

If I set out to be a teacher and then got sick, does this mean that my depression prevailed over the pursuit of my specific project? Can I create a new project? Is my life somehow doubly futile because I feel incapable of fulfilling my original futile project?

Is my project simply thinking about my project, the role of human suffering, the indifference of the universe, the fullness of my Lack? Am I not destined to write, to wonder, to philosophize?

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

Testing The Limits Of Logic

I’ve been helping my niece study for the English and reading portions of the ACT. She asked me why she’s being tested this way. “I don’t think like this every day,” she said. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of a lesson on logic—specifically, why colleges value a carefully crafted analytic approach.

The world is full of problems. People prefer order over chaos. College prepares students for the real world, which is full of chaos. Logic—or the promise of its power—puts folks at ease.

But I’m a poet, and poets like to mess with shit.

What about the world is knowable? Do words, phrases, sentences, etc. always give an accurate account of Reality? What is Reality? Who are you without language? Is love logical? Will achieving a high score on the ACT get me into a good school, secure me a high-paying job and guarantee my happiness?

Believe me, I’m working hard to tutor my niece. I want her to succeed and I appreciate our time together. She has a point about not understanding the ulterior motives of the ACT test-makers, but she still has to take it.

Logic has its place, no doubt, but what about Wonder? What becomes of adventure when the Secret has been spilled? Adults spend hours upon hours languishing away in cubicles. Given the gravity of our daily business, a moment of play—and time taken to indulge the Irrational—makes a whole lot of sense.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life, Philosophy

You Have My Word

“But there is a professional obligation for teachers and writers never to abandon hope.” –Sean Cubitt, Simulation and Social Theory (2001) p. 152

A major criticism of Baudrillard concerns the pessimistic nature of his prose. Critics find his cynical perspective blind to the possibility of hope. Cubitt’s quote speaks to Baudrillard’s tendency to describe with a poetic flair the symptoms of our cultural sickness without offering a viable course of treatment beyond letting society implode.

I argue that teaching and writing, as creative activities, are grounded in hope. The subject discussed in the classroom or textbook—be it uplifting or deflating—matters less than the fact that someone is brave enough to float an argument. It’s not the content, but the form of teaching, the form of writing, that deserves our focus.

Baudrillard wrote over thirty books and countless articles. His prolific output indicates an immense faith in the power of writing and its potential to change minds, even as he chastised the masses for caring more about consuming than thinking.

When composing a blog I hope to secure not just readers, but people’s imaginations. In connecting ideas, I’m looking for human connection. When I write about Baudrillard’s notion that we’re beyond transcendence, I realize there isn’t much to cheer about. But in reaching for thoughts that wander off the beaten path, I challenge the world, renewing through its exposition the promise of the written word.

Leave a comment

Filed under Philosophy

Really Messy

I just completed my second semester as a volunteer literacy tutor at my local high school for adult students for whom English is a second, third, or fourth language. This term I tutored a factory worker from Belarus named Dzmitry. It sounds cliche but over the last ten weeks I learned a lot more than I taught.

It was clear from the start that Dzmitry likes to ask questions. He craves knowledge, wants to know why, desires the bigger picture. But he often meets resistance.

“People don’t like me asking questions,” he said, half-amused, half-resigned. “And I have many questions.”

After hearing this, I took it upon myself to let Dzmitry ask away. We never rushed through assignments but instead picked apart paragraphs and sentences, words and syllables. He wanted to overcome his accent. I told him it is part of him, that it’s nothing to hide. Above all, I gave him the freedom to inquire, to seek both the trees and the forest.

I was thrilled to find someone comfortable with uncertainty. Life is really messy and there’s a lot of shit to dig through, but it’s great when someone offers you a shovel and you take it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized