Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Discontented Man

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch,
He said to me, "You must not ask for so much."
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door,
She cried to me, "Hey, why not ask for more?
~Leonard Cohen (Bird On A Wire)

I know that I am a privileged person: a middle class white male in America. Most people in the world have a lower standard of living than me, often very much lower. Although it may still hurt like hell, I know the pains of my trials, tribulations, tragedies and losses pale in comparison to that suffered by my fellow humans. My loved ones are near and healthy, I live in a nice home with plenty to eat and a job that makes me happy. I've really nothing to complain about, and yet I do.

I have all of this, far more than I need really, yet I want more. I suppose I could just relax and write it up to the "human condition," but I know, or at least reckon, it's possible to be content. At least that's what I've been told by artists, gurus, and religion. What they say sounds good and makes sense, even though achieving it usually means giving up on wanting. That's the hard part.

I don't ask for much. I mean, just a little more money would be nice, right? A little more sex? Yes please. A little more free time? That's all I really want for myself . . . And then, once I have it, I'll finally be in a position to be content.

Ha, ha, ha, indeed.

Man, I'd love to move through life in perfect contentment and I really think I could give up on the selfish stuff. I could live more simply. I could definitely do that, and my family has moved in that direction over the past three years, giving up the big house and long commutes for a small apartment in the city and transportation by foot, bike, and bus. I think I could ultimately even go so far as to give it all away and live a life of blissful poverty, but even then, when I do the mental experiment, I'm certain I would still have things for which to ask.

I know people who are working to move their lives in the direction of bliss, but one thing they all have in common is that they've pretty much gone on a media fast, especially avoiding anything that has to do with politics, taking comfort it seems from a kind of selfish cynicism. As anyone who has read here for long knows, I'm not about to do that. There is too much idealism in me. I love democracy, the idea of democracy at least, with all its inherent imperfections. I want to pass a better democracy on to my child and the children I teach. And if that's going to have any chance of happening it's my responsibility to engage as sincerely as I can. How else do we ever expect self-governance to work?

For instance, I very much want to stop the Obama administration's corporate-sponsored Common Core curriculum because it's anti-child, created by amateurs, and completely unproven. (They insist it's not a "curriculum," but it is, complete with detailed, step-by-step instructions invented by non-professional educators on how to teach.) I think it's a huge mistake to turn our children over to corporately run schools or to plague children with batteries of high stakes standardized tests. I know that it's wrong to pit child against child, teacher against teacher, school against school, and state against state in a race to the bottom. How could I ever be content as long as there is that?

I want to instead see our public schools adopt a child-centric approach, one that takes into account the actual research that's been conducted over the past century, stemming from pioneers like Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and John Dewey. I want instead to see our schools employ the methods tested and proven through such approaches as democratic free schools, Reggio Emilia, Montessori, Waldorf, outdoor schools, and a host of other progressive models of education. I want this and even though my desire robs me of contentment, I don't want to not want this because it's the best thing for human beings.

Am I asking for too much? Could I ask for more? The answer is probably "yes" on both counts, but if we could only achieve this, I'd finally be in a position to be content . . . Ha, ha, ha.

I can think of a dozen other things about which I feel the same. And cynicism doesn't comfort me.

I think I'm doomed to be a discontented man and, frankly, I'm choosing to be content with that.

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1 comment:

MissFifi said...

Nope, you are right on.
I wonder what it will take for people to see that constant testing means nothing?Wouldn't it be better to put some of the skills kids are learning to practical use as opposed to just writing out "John has three apples, Mary has six"?
Our toddler starts at a co-op this year and we are very excited. What concerns me is what happens when he hits the regular school system? should be interesting that is for sure.