ONE YEAR WITH AN ENGLISH TEACHER
Day 144, May 7, 2008
At school today I would like to keep a “don’t know” mind. For most of my life, I’ve done exactly the opposite. I’ve driven myself to know as much as possible about as many things as possible. I’ve thought of myself as a little energizer bunny thinking machine, capable of defeating the world by recognizing, identifying, discerning, distinguishing, and knowing. It’s been me against life, and my main weapon has been my ability to think and know. Sadly, though, it’s gotten me pretty much nowhere. I’m usually fairly happy in my life, but rarely satisfied. There’s always something else to know, some new mystery to figure out and understand, and the figuring out and understanding only leads to the next mystery, usually bigger than the one before. The truth is, my energizer bunny mind is like a wee speck in an infinite universe of puzzles. What’s really dangerous about all this is that I continue to pretend that I’m making progress, that I’m solving the problem of life by knowing more and more. I see this in my work as a teacher. My students are as mysterious, as baffling, as shadowy, as inexplicable as the most distant galaxies, and yet I still pretend that I know how to teach them. I convince myself, over and over, that I’m “figuring them out”. It’s as if teaching a human being is as easy as learning to use a new computer: you simply get to know the machine, and, bingo, it works. Trouble is, students are not machines; they are more like vast and mystifying solar systems ... which brings me back to the “don’t know” mind. Today, instead of continuing with my charade of being the great ‘knower” who can gradually figure everything out and thus bring life under control, I would like to be the great un-knower who, moment by moment, stands before the immeasurable mystery of life. I’d like to continually admit that I actually know nothing at all, that the universe and I make up an utterly strange and incomprehensible mystery. Perhaps if I practice more of that kind of humble acceptance of ignorance in my teaching, I will become, oddly enough, a better and better teacher.