1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I'm focusing on keeping the machinery running

Did I just say that? Indeed I did - to a group of students. How shameful.

Herein lies the danger to any educational endeavor: inverting ends and means. Clearly excellent teaching, challenging students, wisdom, knowledge, a passion for truth...these are the ends of education. Yet in our bureacratized age, administrative realities tend toward the subordination of everything else. To steal the title from one of the Terminator films, it is the "rise of the machines."

How can a school be designed wherein the necessity of administrative functions is done (and done well) while at the same time keeping the real focus on education?

Shared Leadership 

Where is it written that there must be only one head of the school and that this person alone is the principal leader? Why not have two or three leaders who share administrative responsibilities, while at the same time focusing on key areas?

Why not a CEO, CFO and CPO? Say what? Yes, executive, financial and pedagogical "operations." Such a division of labor might prevent the abstraction that principals often face: they get removed from the classroom and within 90 days forget what it is to teach and to relate to students in the classroom. Their imaginations run wild with "what can be done," but this is only in their minds, not in reality. A sense of unreality permeates the entire school. Division and sabotage are the results.

There has to be a better way.  Maintaining machinery is not the proper vocation of a teacher.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Two Venues, One Hubris 

Of late I have found myself working and studying in two different worlds: the college scene, studying nonprofit management, and the world of "church work" at my local parish.  The differences are not as great as one might expect, and, indeed, there is a common thread running through both secular and religious zealots.  It is this: the notion that "we" have the answer for "them."

Exhibit A: The Nonprofit World

One needn't be a disciple of Ayn Rand (does she rate disciples?) to observe that there is something morally ambiguous about helping others. Not with respect to the concrete action one might take, such as feeding a hungry person, but when one moves beyond the physical need to the social or spiritual. If I set out to help you, it means that I know (or think that I know) what you need. 

I see the homeless man with the sign that says, "Will work for food" and I immediately think of both what he really wants and what I know he really needs. He really wants booze and/or drugs, but I know he needs Jesus or housing or a hair cut and a job.

Entire organizations begin from the premise that they have the solution or solutions to the problems of others. Most of this is admirable and beautfiul. But the dark side is when an organization thinks of the human condition is "solvable" (cf. gulag, concentration camp, re-education camp, etc.) and sets out to eliminate the shortcomings inherent in the human condition by ... eliminating humans.  Obviously, this is an extreme case, but the spirit of perfecting humanity is alive and well. To see it play out in a microcosm, see Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Birthmark."

Exhibit B: "Orthodox" Catholics

Among we so-called orthodox Catholics (a term I dislike but it will do), I see the temptation to look at "the world" (as if Christians are disconnected from biological life!) as the place that needs "to be saved." Ah, the world is fallen, but Christ has saved me, ergo, I will plunge into the fray and save those who are in pernicious error: heretics, political liberals, peace and justice Catholics, pro-choicers, fundamentalists -- you name 'em, we've got a solution to what ails 'em.

Hmm. Sounds similar to Exhibit A, doesn't it? Yeah, amazing.

The Existential Alternative

 So how can I -- someone who would call himself a teacher! -- reject the notion that I have the solution to others' problems and simultaneously insist that I possess at least something that is useful to others?  As I see it, the only justifiable position is taking my own education, and hence my own humanity, seriously.  "Physician, heal thyself" (see Luke 4:23).  It is a matter of extracting the 2x4s from my own noggin first and/or caring for my own development concurrently with educating, helping, healing, assisting others. 

How can I expect others to take education seriously if I don't take my own education seriously?

The alternative is unrealism and unbridled arrogance. Now, if I can just remember these wise words of mine...