Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Snowday Evening", oil on masonite, by Jeff Mahorney

Teaching Journal
Weekend, January 24-25, 2009

“The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by the multiplicity of conflicting concerns, to surrender oneself to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone with everything, is to succumb to violence; more than that, it is cooperation in violence!”
   --– Thomas Merton

Merton’s point here (he was writing about the peace activists in the 1960’s) could easily be applied to students and teachers in our own frantic times. I sometimes see a sort of breathless devotion to “doing” at my school. Many of us – including me, quite often – seem in a great hurry to do as many things as possible as fast as possible. Students rush down the halls to get to the next class so they can "accomplish" as much as possible, after which they scurry to the next class where they do countless other “essential” tasks, and on and on. Many of us teachers, too, seem propelled by some inner pressure to do, do, do. I’ve often ticked off the tasks I finish at school, one by one, as though the more things I do, the better my teaching will be. It’s like a hurricane is almost constantly swirling through the halls, stirring up kids and adults alike into an ever-greater tumult of doings and goings-on. Merton calls it a form of “innate violence”, and I would agree. As we bustle here and there in our frenetic desire to get things “done”, we are doing violence to own inner peace, the peace that only comes, really, when we are content with what’s happening right now, when we’re not anxious about speeding on to the next half-dozen things “to do”. When students are worried that they won’t complete the innumerable tasks assigned for homework, there’s no contentment, no peace, and probably not much learning. When teachers anxiously hasten through their list of school-day tasks, there’s no satisfaction -- and probably no achievement worth noting. There’s just relentless combat between us and the endless list of tasks to complete. No one wants violence in our schools, but we may already have a sly and crafty kind that’s rushing us along to even more impatient and restless times ahead.  

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