Thursday, November 05, 2009


The right and the ability to choose for oneself has generally been considered a privilege teachers should increasingly bestow on students as they move up through the grades, and I agree – sort of. Certainly I want to help my students develop the ability to sort through options on their own and then make an informed choice. That’s a known requirement for intelligent participation in an adult democratic society. In fact, the journey from childhood to adulthood might be described as the journey from almost never choosing for oneself to doing it regularly. However, there’s a troubling trace of egocentricity hidden in the phrase “choosing for yourself”, for it suggests that we might be closing down our doors and windows and focusing primarily on our own ideas and desires. It implies a possibly narrow-minded approach to choosing, in which our minds are, figuratively speaking, as tapered and constricted as a narrow window, through which we see mostly our own relatively meager knowledge and our own special needs. Rather than choose for themselves, I guess I would like to encourage my students, and myself, to choose for – and with – others. I would like us to always remember that any choice affects not only ourselves, but an infinite number of people and situations. In a sense, choosing for ourselves is not even an option, since we are everlastingly connected to the entire cosmos, and whatever choice we make will ripple out to distant, imperceptible shores. You might say we never choose for ourselves, but always for the whole world. Because this is true, I also want to encourage us (my students and me) to choose with the whole world – that is, with the assistance of all the wise people waiting to help us. The older I get (and I’m 68 now), the more clearly I see that there are countless numbers of learned people who could be of assistance to my students and me in making choices. Since our individual knowledge is downright paltry – not even a drop of water – compared to the bountiful knowledge that flows through the universe, and through the people we meet, my students and I need to be at least as focused on choosing with these people as on choosing by, and for, ourselves. We need to drop the pretense that we can always determine by ourselves exactly what we need to do, and learn to humbly ask for help and direction. In fact, humility may be the key virtue students and teachers need to develop – the ability to see and take advantage of the never-ending knowledge that resides in others. We need to be humble -- and prudent -- enough to put a sign outside our door that says, “Come in. I have a choice to make, and I need your wise help.”

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