Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Discomfort as a Pedagogical and Professional Development Tool

I dwell in the realm of discomfort
I remember when I was 4 feeling a bodily reaction to meeting a poor native boy about my age
A mixture of love and wanting to DO something
I mention native because even at 4 I got that he was an outsider
I dwell in the realm of discomfort
I work in the realm of discomfort
Sorry but I probably make you uncomfortable
Part of me feels sorry about disturbing your peace
Another part says fuck you. I'm not gonna focus on that because that comes from my own feelings of rejection; but it's only fair to mention that it's there.
Another part knows discomfort is the only way most people wake up. Case in point: me
When I was in junior high a friend of mind said: you have a tragic face
I see too much, I said
From 12-40 I would describe myself as lost
Then I loved my child
And the picture got a lot bigger
(There's another beautiful child now and a whole motherhood tangent I could go off on but all I will say about that here is that birth, children, and motherhood constitute the biggest miracle and source of healing energy on the planet but, seriously, who could possibly know this? Fetishizing of motherhood, yes. Honouring, no. See below regarding practicality and hammers.)
I worked at Maclean's magazine
I got promoted three times
My boss was a socially maladjusted lech
There was nothing abnormal about that
It was a damaging work environment
There was (and is) nothing abnormal about that
I left
People thought I was crazy; it was a GOOD job; I was SUCCESSFUL
I worked at Le Select Bistro
It was not a damaging work environment
I was a waitress; it was NOT a good job; I was clearly NOT successful
I was an artist
I am an artist
Artists are superfluous
Don't get me started about the art world
I am a teacher
Teachers may be the most projected upon profession that exists
I have a teeny tiny place as a teacher
I am so grateful for it
And so honoured to have it
I have been depressed
I get depressed
I have had chronic fatigue syndrome since the early 90s
I have environmental illness
Almost every day, including today, for instance, I get sick from the thousands of toxic and unregulated chemicals that people blithely wear on their bodies or clothes
I could probably be diagnosed bipolar or ADD
I get post-traumatic stress disorder
I am a sensitive person
I am not on drugs
I do not judge people who take anti-depressants
They take them because their feelings are inconvenient
I cried every day for about ten years
And I still get depressed
Who has time for that?
Isn't it interesting though that so much in the world, and in our own history and lives, is worthy of our sorrow?
I reject the medical model
It is so limited--and practical
Feel ______? Take ______.
Simple. Practical.
Doesn't work for you?
Must not exist
Figure out what's behind the problem?
Insert picture of person with hands over ears, singing la, la, la, la, la...
I feel
I feel
Listen, good for you if you have made your peace with the world
But even though I dwell so deeply in discomfort
I refuse to accept that what I feel isn't what I feel
Don't go there?
Sorry, but it's kinda hard to tiptoe around the shitpile when it's inching above your neck
Why should you give a shit about me and my sad story?
Because I'm one of the ones who gets it
It's OUR shitpile
We are all connected
I feel it
I will not be okay until all of us are okay
None of us will be okay until all of us are okay
History will judge us harshly
The comfortable vs the slum dogs
Our comfort is a sham
Deep down you know it too
What do I want you to do?
Like Barack Obama and other philosopher-politicos
I think we need to find ways to implement empathy
Like Carol Bly writes: I had never experienced empathy and people I knew had never even heard of it
Her people were farm people
Here's the connection--look, I could talk patriarchy (and, complete disclosure, I have a gutful of wanting to) but, practical people like formulae and this one sums it up: practicality = do stuff = accomplish
Great formula, just that when your only tool is a hammer every problem begins to look like a nail (Maslow)
We have been fucking hammered to near extinction
Time for a new formula
E = survival
I'm not Einstein, but it's a big-deal formula: E is for empathy and survival is for our kids
Every single institution is failing
We are witnessing it RIGHT NOW
Obama says we don't just have a financial deficit, we have an empathy deficit
(Just in case you think I'm a fawning Obama-phile, I'm reserving my whole-hearted judgment; but I will say I do love the way the guy has upped the rhetoric.)
M. says he can do more on the football field than he can in the classroom
I personally detest the fetishization of male athletes in our culture and I have questions about the place of sports like football in our schools
But I will leave that discussion aside because I get that M. is about the flip side of that coin; he is about reaching them and teaching them to become good men
I keep thinking about what he said
Something like: maybe the classroom isn't even the place to do that
I think he meant the classroom isn't the place to connect and I keep wondering if the classroom isn't the place then what is the point of it?
This is what I got out of school from K-16: reading, writing, arithmetic, initiation into many strange social rituals, knowledge that I needed a university degree to be "a success," and one single decent university professor from whom I learned to question reality. I was the top student in my school. I went to Queen's University on scholarship. I didn't know I was a "creative person," an artist, until I was 30. My people were farm people too (we're all mere generations' distance from outdoor plumbing). Practical.
I didn't need 17 years of school to learn how to read, write and add. Not actually so practical is it?
Do I think it's better now? I do. Do I think it's a lot better now? I do not.
Schools, like all institutions, are about economies of scale. Practical.
Here's what I think. People fall through the cracks. These days a lot of people are falling through a lot of cracks. No one in my educational life would have guessed I was falling through the cracks. Their job was not to "get" me. Their job was to make sure I did A, B, and C and then tested well on A, B, and C. They did a good job according to the criteria they were given.
I bet M. really "gets" his football players and that is why he makes a difference in their lives.
We need to "get" our students. Relationship is paramount. The people in power need to actively seek out those teachers who identify themselves as creating empathy. They need to seek out those on the margins of the institutions.
You may think I'm too intense, too melodramatic, too emotional, too female, or maybe you're getting near the same page. Whatever. I'm telling you something you need to hear.
(A friend of mine from later life ran into a school friend. He said: Oh, Tasha, she was always ahead of her time. I didn't really describe myself that way until then.)
But, yes, I am ahead of my time. I've always had one foot over the edge. I'm yours and your kids' future.
Who I am is inseparable from my wisdom is what I teach from. You are caring and committed people. I apologize if I come across as disrespectful because I mean none. I do feel an urgency, though, that I do not see mirrored anywhere except in the fear and denial cycle of the media.
I challenge you all to push your emotional edges. This means vulnerability and discomfort.
Openheartedness, compassion, empathy, courage: it is the only way forward.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely agree with your words on education - school isn't for everyone, especially if it's too rigid in structure. I realized this when I met a couple really intelligent people in high school who did drugs because they were bored; they had poor grades, yet they had the potential to be great if only the school system were more flexible and kept them engaged. Sometimes things are too bland, too pen-and-paper - too A, B, C, as you said. I stuck to it because I knew I wanted to go to university, and that it was necessary, but it was difficult and tried my patience at times.

    It's good when teachers in elementary school and secondary school get to know their students and allow them to be more inventive in their assignments. Some teachers are better at accommodating different learning styles than others (visual, auditory, kinesthetic).

    This reminds me of the debate in our writing class where I argued that assignments and projects are a fairer criteria to mark from than tests, because tests are simply memorizing facts and not really understanding the 'big picture' and concepts. I think multiple choice tests are a poor reflection of intelligence.

    Recently, however, I've realized with my photography and creative electronics that it's necessary to utilize memory in order to understand things. If I didn't know the technical terminologies and understand their processes and steps, I wouldn't be able to develop in that art form. It's a balance of memory and application I guess. Education is a tricky thing...