Bird Droppings January 22, 2012
Sailing off the edge and or thinking out of a box
I was thinking back nearly three years when history was made as a new president was sworn in and as one of my students came into class and asked to start working on his assignments. I did not beg and plead he started on his own. As he pulled a three ring binder and several folders from his back pack I sat with my mouth wide open who was this person. I have known him for a year and never has he been a “student”. It is amazing what a simple change in self-esteem and self-worth can do. On Thursday we studied for a vocabulary test using an LCD projector and when he left the room he knew the words. Last Friday morning he had a one hundred percent grade on his vocabulary test. It was a first in his educational career. What a change came over him. As I listened that night to our new president’s first speech I thought back to my student. We can make a difference each of us often in a small way that magnifies and grows.
“I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. Each of us must learn to work not just for oneself, one’s own family or nation, but for the benefit of all humankind. Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best foundation for world peace.” the Dalai Lama, From “The Pocket Zen Reader,”
I have found teachers can be limited in their scope of reality. You would think that as a group, teachers would be more open to ideas, to new thought, to climbing out of the box. I read this passage above yesterday in a daily offering I receive, I immediately thought of teaching. As a teacher most think only within the confines of their room. Being in a somewhat different sort of atmosphere in a resource room which for ten years is how I taught. I can recall I did claim god like power within my room. Something that has been hard to accomplish is improving behavior outside of my room. Whoa, what a concept? Try and get kids to behave for other teachers. In reality it is simply expanding kids thinking beyond the moment or at least trying to. With this one student I mentioned all it took was a nudge.
“Suppose that we are wise enough to learn and know and yet not wise enough to control our learning and knowledge, so that we use it to destroy ourselves? Even if that is so, knowledge remains better than ignorance. It is better to know even if the knowledge endures only for the moment that comes before destruction than to gain eternal life at the price of a dull and swinish lack of comprehension of a universe that swirls unseen before us in all its wonder. That was the choice of Achilles, and it is mine, too.” Isaac Asimov
I read this statement so many years ago and I responded one way. A friend sent me this quote, we have an ongoing dialogue and this was a response to something I wrote and not really a counter thought but additional support. Wisdom is not as elusive as one might expect. But I do not think in wisdom one would destroy one’s self. Knowledge or knowing how to do something does not impart wisdom.
A radical extremist can know how to build a nuclear device and detonate it and is that wisdom? Car bombers are they wise? Dying in retaliation and in any kind of war is that wise? Wisdom is not controlling knowledge and maybe I really do not know what wisdom is. So wisdom is part knowledge but also an additional aspect of concern and caring that provide the frame work for the knowledge to be structured within. Yet wisdom is not truly control.
Achilles knew his limitations and did battle. Someone else found his weakness and he was defeated. As I look deeper into the statement by Asimov however there is a willingness to know at any cost and perhaps that is really what is being said. Given the choice of not knowing or knowing and in so knowing all will be destroyed still Asimov would choose to know.
I recall we celebrate Columbus Day, we are celebrating a man who at one point sort of discovered America. As he was heading in this direction after leavingSpainas the weeks passed his desire to know came under fire as his crew feared they would be sailing off the edge of the world and great sea serpents and such devour them. He took a chance and discovered a new world, sometimes it is not destruction but illumination that waits.
“True wisdom lies in gathering the precious things out of each day as it goes by.” E. S. Bouton
“Raphael paints wisdom; Handel sings it, Phidias carves it, Shakespeare writes it, Wren builds it, Columbus sails it, Luther preaches it, Washington arms it, Watt mechanizes it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Seeing the pieces and picking through knowing which to save and which to toss aside is that wisdom. I wonder as I sit thinking this morning what choices will I make as I work with kids.
“Wisdom is not wisdom when it is derived from books alone.” Horace
“In talking to children, the old Lakota would place a hand to the ground and explain: ‘We sit in the lap of our mother. From her we, and all other living things, come. We soon shall pass, but the place where we now rest will last forever.’ So we too, learned to sit or lie on the ground and become conscious of the life around us in its multitudinous forms.” Chief Luther Standing Bear, Teton Sioux
Having an understanding of what it is we see and touch maybe within there is wisdom. It is not as much knowing but understanding. An understanding within the constraints of what we know. What a paradox? I am sitting reading Kent Nerburn’s book Native American Wisdom, filled with quotes and ideas from Native American culture and thought. In a passage from Sitting Bull, the great medicine man of the Teton Sioux, he wonders why all things have happened as they have and from his thoughts and as I read I wonder. Sitting here thinking after the words as well of our new president.
“Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me because my skin is red? Because I am a Sioux? Because I was born where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my country?” Sitting Bull, Teton Sioux
Sitting Bull received his answer shortly thereafter as he was arrested for inciting mutiny on the reservation during a period of unrest. A medicine man from another tribe had started a cult according to authorities and it was growing in its following and Sitting Bull was accused of taking part. On his way to jail as legend has it, his arresters, several Sioux guards, as Sitting Bull gestured to his grandson they thought he was pulling a pistol and shot him several times. Sitting Bull had foretold his death several days before being taken by Sioux hands.
“Wisdom comes in dreams” Wavoka, Paiute, medicine man
Why even bring up an old Native American’s ideas during a discourse on wisdom? It is within the context of our knowledge that we seek wisdom within what we know. So often we fear what we do not know and that which is literally the opposite of wisdom and try and destroy it. Had we tried to understand when we first came to theAmericasperhaps this day would be somewhat different. What if we had tried to understand instead of force our knowledge upon a group of peoples. Knowledge alone can destroy wisdom. However maybe the buffer is understanding. Freud and Jung might argue Wavoka’s thought, yet they would sit and ponder dreams as therapy. I wonder as I sit and always my thoughts come back to going into a class room. I hope as I teach some way this makes sense and when a student leaves they look differently at life maybe wiser maybe just seeing a new color today instead of all black and white.
“Teachers are people who start things they never see finished, and for which they never get thanks until it is too late.” Max Forman
Yesterday I bumped into a former student from nearly ten years ago now a father and married. When he left I would have placed him in that category of ninety five percent that will be dead, in jail, used car salesmen, or evangelists. A good friend and leading authority on conduct disorders uses that as a lead in to kids in high school with conduct disorders. My former student has done some jail time small pieces here and there but finished high school and is working steady and putting his wife through nursing school. So maybe wisdom came to him eventually. Maybe in that statement is wisdom and understanding but we may never see the true nature of all we and hopefully we are continuing to look. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your hearts and always give thanks.