Sunday, December 27, 2009
THE POWER OF THE UNKNOWN
A popular maxim tells us that knowledge is power, but as a teacher, I must always remember that lack of knowledge is just as powerful. The vast and hidden unknown is a mighty, and often unrecognized, force in any classroom. I often picture my students and I wandering on the surface of a planet called “English”, while the incalculable energies of the unknown are simmering at the center of the planet like so much magma. We are usually unaware of the underground, shadowy, nameless strengths of what we are studying, but they are always there, churning away beneath us. When my students and I are studying a poem, the best we can usually do is wander among the lines, noticing an understandable truth here and there, but only rarely do we catch the rumblings of the unexplained, out-of-sight truths under the words. Now and them, fortunately for us, something like an eruption happens, sending an extraordinary insight shooting up in our midst, and then we are able to appreciate, again, how powerful are the forces of all that we don’t know. What I find strangest of all is that, by some uncanny magic, the more we know about a work of literature, the more we seem to not know. As our understanding of a short story grows, so does out ignorance of it. Each time we read a poem, a brighter light shines on the words, but, strangely, the darkness beneath the poem grows darker, more potent, … and more beautiful. This is the power of the great unknown at work, and as a teacher, I’m grateful for it. After all, the more we don’t know, the more exploratory and adventurous English class becomes.