Socrates Inquiry (08/14)

"One thing only I know, and that is that I know nothing."

Good old Socrates, Ye olde Socrates!  Let's make it clear, I am not a scholar, and I am not trying to become one. I am a man who has always been interested in learning more. Learning about myself, about when and how life started, or why humans so inadequately (more on that later in a separate post!) adapted from their social environments? I have been trying to learn as much as I can in the last 40 some years. I am simply talking about the pleasure of taking a new book,opening it, and resourcing in it. Or watching a documentary that has a profound initial question about some aspect of life and explores and elaborates while trying to find answers and make sense of things. I don't think that I am trying to out-smart anybody. I probably wasn't the smartest kid in the class most of the time anyway! For me, it is more about being curious. Curious of others. Curious of life itself. In a way, it is arguably fairly easy to make a living: a few good skills, a few good breaks. It is a little harder to make sense of life or to make sense of self. I am of the opinion that that is what Socrates was talking about. Trying to make sense means more than just trying to know everything about everything. Or at least pretending to! He was probably, in all his portrayed arrogance (!?), a very humble man.

Now move forward twenty-five centuries or so. We know we can scientifically estimate that we have five billion years of sun energy at our disposal. But our industiral civilization is affecting climate at greater speed than at any other time in human history (say 100 000 years). The cycles of hot and cold on the globe have been numerous in the last million years. We are right in the middle of another one. But how does one encompass life and make meaning of his/her daily life in geological times? Simply put and in easier terms, what is in store for us in the next 50 years or 100 years? As a teacher that is really the only question that matters. What will happen to the future daily life of my current group of students? I can have them prepared with the greatest skills about communication and technology, becoming advocates of antibullying campaigns, with enhance awareness of their own personal engagement. In the end what truly matters is: "what are they going to do with their (daily) lives?" It is a complex issue, and I have by no means the pretention of claiming that I have a long and lasting impact on students. My point is more practical and it goes like this: if we don't teach students about the real world and where it is going (the future of our civilization), who will? It is that simple. After they passed through the education system they are free to make their own choices. That is what freewill is all about after all. One could cynically say that I am but one (civil) servant of the system. And they would be right.

My answer though is more visceral and personal. I have been in education for over 40 years, as a student and for almost 20 years now, as a teacher. Let's list them: K to 12; College; University; BFA; worked for schools; B.Ed.; worked in schools; D. Ed.; M. Ed.; Certificate; teaching practice across provinces; across disciplines; across expectations. Ouf!!! Throughout, the world of education has always been asking: "what we can do to make our clients (the students) more responsive"? Consensus was always hard to find. Nobody has THE right answer or the silver bullet. You have to create your own answer, on your own, regardless if collaboration time is available.

Understanding that personal responsibility for your own learning is one of the pillars of education. In other words, our goal is to turn in functioning citizens. Then the role of the teacher is to support and provide opportunities for every individual learner. One can get enamoured of a specific subject or era or theme of the human experience. In the end, at its core, it is about subsistence; making sure that you can provide for yourself in the future. After you have your subsistence covered then you can make your life better materially speaking. Furthermore, and coming back to Socrates, one must also look at the whole person. You need to focus on the mental self, the emotional self and the spiritual self. Education is not only about the first of these four quarters. It is rather about developing the whole person. Did I know all of that when I started my teaching career or when I was a student in the system? Maybe not, but I certainly had intuitions about where it was supposed to go. I feel privileged that I am working in an education system (where consensus is not always obvious) that expects the students to explore for themselves, what is best for them.

Learn to say with your own words, in your own context: "I know that I know nothing!" Even if part of the system, you will have to fan for yourself. The "invisible hand" of the free market is not going to make you be what you want to be all the time, instantly. You will need to be proactive, take ownership and lead your own life going towards fruitful opportunities. It's time to think for you. At least: "Know thyself!" that is your only daily guarantee for the next 50 years! 100 years!