Lebanon Truth on Education Leads to The Big Questions

Of all the things LT has written, this is my favorite (beating out even this):

Can we change how the world views those who are educated and those who are not? No, even if we thought it was the right thing to do, we lack that power. But what we can do is tell these kids the same things that African-Americans told their kids. It isn’t fair, but it is the only game in town. So we expect you to fight every inch of the way and educate yourselves to your utmost ability, every day, every way. And then we expect you to go out into that big, wonderful, scary, unfair world, make something of yourselves, whether you do it here or thousands of miles from here. But don’t you ever be ashamed of where you came from. And don’t you ever forget what you owe to this community. And don’t you ever think that you don’t have to pay it forward. [emphasis added]

1. I disagree with that first sentence, just a bit – not only can we change how the world views education, we ought to and need to. It’s just that it’s a much larger, and longer, struggle.

One thing we can do is teach others about the injustices of the world and allow their own moral compasses to guide their responses.

2. The above paragraph also reminds me of this top ten pet peeve regarding education: “The widespread belief among middle class parents that their child must get into a well known college or they won’t be as successful in life.”

While I think that’s related to the perspective illustrated by LT’s paragraph, I – and I cannot stress this enough – do not think the two are synonymous. In other words, LT’s exhortation – to engage with the world – does not require attending college.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, it raises the question of how we define ‘successful’. I’ve struggled with that for years, especially in relation to my peers (both defining myself against them and watching how we each define it for ourselves). A friend of mine passed on what turned out to be what I consider a very important definition a few years ago. He said that rather than ask people what they were doing for work, or if they had kids, or how much money they made, or if they went to college – all traditional measures of success – that what was important was whether or not they were happy – and I don’t mean on a superficial, false-consciousness sort of level. I mean happiness in the Classic Greek Philosopher/Dead White Guy sense, happiness as the result of achieving one’s definition of the good life.

This definition of happiness allows for the inclusion of a much greater part of the whole of the human experience (and it allows each person to define it for themselves, which I think is absolutely essential, messy as though it may be on the societal level). I think it’s important that people – including those who happen to be students – are not saddled with a definition of happiness that is impossible to live up to (like going to college or making millions of dollars). Doing so is a recipe for unhappiness, frankly (see the rapidly increasing number of housing foreclosures and missed credit card payments).

All this, of course, is another way of saying that the process, the means, the road you take on the way to your destination – all of these are as important, if not more important, than the destination itself. Lord knows that what was important for me was not the degree in my hand (it’s sitting on my bookshelf between texts gathering dust) but what I’d just spent the last five years doing (which determined who I am in no small part).

Note: Careful readers will note that I very rarely come straight out and tell people what to think/do. It just feels wrong. In this case, I will make an exception:

Anyone who is hell-bent on seeing their children succeed by any definition would do well to remember that.

3. LT’s paragraph also raises the questions of what obligations we (teachers, parents, adults in general) should be placing on students. This is a very touchy question for me, since I have a pretty intense dislike of obligating others for any reason (obligating others being set in opposition to freely assuming responsibility). In fact, that might be one of the reasons I always had trouble try to enforce any sort of “make students do their work” rule or guideline when subbing: While I can endeavor to help a student see the consequences and benefits of doing/not doing their work, I cannot (and have/had no desire to) make students do anything.

However, as long as obligating others is a factor, then we could do worse than asking students to actively engage with the world around them.

It feels like there is more to say about this, but it’s not coming at the moment, so I’m just going to throw this out there.

Explore posts in the same categories: desire, education, hope

3 Comments on “Lebanon Truth on Education Leads to The Big Questions”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Maybe instead of happy (which is a feeling–and feelings are transient creatures), it might be more true to think of it in terms of contentment (which is a state of mind and heart–an attitude).
    Some people truly are content to live a simple and uncomplicated life. They do not strive with others, or themselves, for more.
    Others are always trying to learn more, do more, etc. The satisfaction of achievement, as well as the process, is something they find contentment in.
    I also think that learning is a life-long adventure. Learning to like oneself better, getting along better with others, learning from mistakes and doing better. Gaining common sense and wisdom, not just knowledge–as well as actual “book learning”, which can and hopefully does occur throughout life.
    Teach people first of all to be CURIOUS, then how to find information, to reason things out for themselves, to learn from those around them, to teach others…..isn’t that true education?
    Still, time in school, 12 years–or more–is not wasted. If nothing else it teaches us discipline, patience, and that we don’t–and never will–know it ALL.

  2. Dennis Says:

    “Still, time in school, 12 years–or more–is not wasted. If nothing else it teaches us discipline, patience, and that we don’t–and never will–know it ALL.”

    I came far closer to learning this in college than in high school.

    In fact, I’d say that I first learned that I didn’t know it all in college. I left HS with that mistaken impression fully intact.

  3. Dennis Says:

    “Teach people first of all to be CURIOUS, then how to find information, to reason things out for themselves, to learn from those around them, to teach others…..isn’t that true education?”

    Teaching people to educate themselves and share skills and knowledge in a democratic and non-hierarchical fashion…. yeah, I think that’s a pretty worthy goal. However, I am skeptical of the ability of HS as currently constructed to do that.

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