We wrapped up the last chapter of the book this weekend with a discussion on Meaning. The next step for participants is to post on our book discussion page to the Now What? section. They get to write (and respond) about what they are going to do with their whole new mind. I’m very interested in seeing the responses. I know for sure one of the art teachers in the group has been having her AP Art students read it.
As we discussed the Meaning chapter, some of my previous thinking surfaced and I found myself (probably) rambling on to the group about the various definitions of success we have in education and how they are tied to meaningfulness. It went something like this…
It doesn’t sit well with me that our primary gauges of success in education are college and workforce readiness. The most obvious response is “if it’s not college or workforce readiness, then what?” It’s a struggle to come up with an answer. However, if we define success (through school mission statements, especially) as economically productive, competitive global citizens prepared for future success (or some derivation like that). Many schools don’t necessarily have that idea explicitly stated, but our practices, often externally mandated, reveal such a focus. The big testing companies sell their world-o-work diagnostic tool as part of their business models so kids can know at 16, 17, 18 where they fit in the world of work or college. How do we reconcile this with some of the labor statistics and college major numbers cited by Did You Know and Shift Happens? I suppose that means we should be producing well-rounded students who have the ability to adapt and continue learning their whole lives. That seems to stand in contrast of streamlining kids into specific career and college paths. Do and will some kids go that route? Sure, but I’m not convinced that we should structure our educational systems so that all kids have to. Regardless, our system is structured to produce college and workforce ready people and that’s how we define our success and how we’ll expect them to define their success. The ways to success are to get a good job either with a college degree or without it.
What does good job mean for many people? Good money. Satisfaction and fulfillment all play a part, but like some fool said in answer to how much money is enough…just a little more. So there it is. If our definitions of success and meaning are closely and inextricably tied to that path of success, then the acquisition of wealth is really our metric. After all, it’s how we evaluate the colleges and businesses that pass dictates and judgements on to our schools. What about colleges why we’re at it. Why so many college drop outs? They want to blame inadequate preparation in high school, but perhaps it’s an inadequate ability for colleges to create meaning for their students as the colleges propel students to corporate bondage.
So now that we have defined education over the last 100+ years in the context of joining corporate America, we have no other way to define education. And that brings me back to “if it’s not college or workforce readiness, then what?” Self determination; the pursuit of happiness; the pursuit of knowledge; the search for meaning, service, caring, compassion, passion, creativity, individual expression, and on and on. Does any of it generate income? Can a corporate society support such an approach? It’s hard to conceive and even harder to see how these directly increase the bottom line. Can we do without college and workforce readiness? No. Can we do without all those other things in the pursuit of college and workforce readiness? Not for very much longer. If you think I’ve missed the mark, then I ask you to ponder the following and give an honest answer.
If a society defines success as the acquisition of wealth and the individual loses the capacity to create wealth, what value and meaning does the individual have to that society?
Passion. Called to the profession. Inspired by another teacher. Making a difference.
Those are the top reasons the book study participants gave today when I asked them to tell their story and frame it within the question of why they got into education. Empathy, chapter 7, in A Whole New Mind contains a portfolio section called Empathize on the Job. In activity #2 How Did I Get Here? Dan Pink writes “Sometimes you work near people for years but have little idea about the path that brought them alongside you.” So today I asked. We, at the request of the group, modified the activity and had each person tell his/her own story to the whole group. I took notes on one side of a notecard and listened for themes in each person’s story. The dominant ones are at the top of this post. The word passion came out of every story directly, simply, plainly, and unflinchingly. This, from a group that ranges in experience from only a few years to 20+.
I wasn’t surprised about passion, being influenced by another teacher, or making a difference. Those seem to be very common bonds among educators. The other, called to the profession, surprised me a little. Many in the room spoke about being called to the profession, having it in their blood, or simply knowing from an early age they were supposed to be in education. More than one took a circuitous path, some resisting, but we all ended up here. It seems to be somewhat anachronistic, especially in today’s postmodern technological realm, to respond to a call.
This identification of purpose or meaning (Chapter 9) resonates and grounds people, making them unshakable stalwarts. Passion permeates what they do, who they are. Not all educators reside here, but the ones who do simply radiate and attract kids (and adults) to themselves. It’s not out of ego or grandiosity; it’s their quality. The same thing happens when the sunrise stops us or a piece of poetry gives us pause. We cannot really quantify it, but we can see its results. Kids, other staff, parents, even you know who these people are.
The ones who answer their calling are not limited to education, but few other vocations so poignantly intertwine people and purpose, message and meaning, wisdom and wonder. Can we teach kids to answer a call regardless of vocation? I’m not sure, but we can prepare them to be ready, receptive, and reflective. The purpose of education starts there.