Saturday, January 03, 2009

“Ride on! Rough-shod if need be, smooth-shod if that will do, but ride on! Ride on over all obstacles, and win the race!”
“And win what race?” said I.
“The race that one has started in,” said he. “Ride on!”
-- Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Sometimes it occurs to me that my students and I, in our zealous aspiration to win the academic ‘race’, are a bit like James Steerforth in Dickens’ novel. Like Steerforth, we ‘ride on’ through the days and weeks of the school year, but I wonder if we always know exactly where we are riding to, and what race we are trying to win. Steerforth seems to dash here and there for the sake of dashing, as though, if he ever stopped dashing, his life would disintegrate into insignificance, and I sometimes sense this kind of frenzied determination in my students and me. Are we working hard just to be working hard? Do we sometimes lose sight of the purpose of our single-minded quest? Do we really know exactly which race we are running, and why? In all ways, I think David, being almost the opposite of Steerforth, is the more fortunate of the two characters. David is not running any race at all, but rather just trying to live each moment to the best of his ability. While Steerforth races around in his pursuit of the next escapade, David merely tries to understand the small mysteries that present themselves each hour. Steerforth thinks he’s conquering the world; David, perhaps, knows there’s really nothing to conquer. It could well be that my students and I should approach our work in English class more like David than Steerforth. Instead of seeing class as a race, maybe we should see it as a happy exploration of a strange city (like David’s London). Instead of dashing through each class, perhaps we should do a little sauntering to see what can be seen.

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