Saturday, March 29, 2008


O is for Ownership

I’ve often heard teachers, including myself, say to students something like, “You have a mind of your own,” but in the last few years I’ve been wondering if students, or any of us, actually do. Saying that students have a mind of their own implies that they “own” their thoughts, that they somehow created their thoughts on their “own” and therefore have sole possession of them. It’s as if there are thousands of distinct physical things called “thoughts” in each student’s brain, all of which are rightfully the property of that student. More and more, that seems to me be an inaccurate view of the way things really are. My students and I don’t own our thoughts any more than one part of the sky owns a breeze that’s passing through it. Thoughts constantly come to us, swirl around in our minds, mix with other thoughts that are passing through, and then they all eventually relocate to other people, usually through our own words, but sometimes through our actions or even gestures. Certainly remnants of each thought are left behind with us, but then parts of these remnants mix with newly entering thoughts and eventually move along to other minds. How, then, can we say that any of our thoughts are really “ours”. Did we actually create from scratch a single thought in our entire lives, or did all of “our” thoughts simply pass through us from far, far distant places? Perhaps our thoughts got their start long, long ago in persons we’ll never know, and, by wonderful meandering paths, in due course made their way to my students and me in English class. In that case, we actually don’t have a “mind of our own”. Our thoughts don’t belong to us, but rather we’re merely borrowing them for awhile, sooner or later to send them on their way for others to enjoy.

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