Scranton Column: What is practical?
It’s easy to see that summer won’t transition to a nice peaceful fall for many of the cities and towns across our great country. For years some people have been taught that the foundations of our republic were founded on principles that favored one class of people over another and that our foundational structures being rotten from the beginning need to be replaced by something more akin to treating everyone with the dignity each one of us deserves.
Sounds great in theory. Most things that I was taught as a product of public schools based around solid theories sounded great as I sat in class and thought about how the world should be operating. But then reality set in when the peaceful halls of academia were replaced by the hustle and bustle of real life. Some of my favorite ideas about human nature vanished as I stood in front of young people who came from widely different backgrounds and cultures.
But we were all sitting in the same room and it was my job to try and impart the wisdom of the English language, the impact of literature on our culture, and the things that we believe to be important in our shared experience as Americans. Most of what I was taught by well-meaning professors had to be set aside for more practical concerns like a student attitude, reading level, particular learning disability, or academic giftedness. All of us in the same classroom trying to figure out why this particular subject was necessary for a high school education.
Some students were mistreated by previous teachers, some abused by parents, or spoiled by well-meaning people in their lives, and still others found simple respite in the fact that another adult would treat their viewpoints with care and consideration. It was a mixed bag of various backgrounds and ideas about the world sitting in a crowded room with one adult trying to convey meaning about the importance of being educated. And, sometimes the theories were right and through trial and error students grasped something important about their respective need to become a little bit more curious about their particular condition.
It was this realization as an educator that set me on the path to understanding that each person sitting in front of me comes from a distinct and particular experience that I can’t begin to understand. But what we have in common is our human condition and every story, poem, or selection we consider in class reflects a part of our shared experience in this world. Most stories are sad, some violent, others just depressing but, I constantly remind students; it is in the depths of our humanity that we learn the most about ourselves.
What we are learning about the human condition through this latest pandemic and social upheaval is that we don’t all agree about everything and people have different ways of expressing themselves and some people are making poor decisions about their future while others are struggling to maintain some sense of perspective throughout this turmoil.
Whatever your theories about the various structures of our society, the only thing worth teaching a child is that they are valued, have a place in our society, can make a difference, and they are a product of the choices they determine are best for them. This isn’t easy to teach these days but it is paramount if we are to survive as a republic.
Personal responsibility instead of selfish ambition, seeking to understand instead of rampant hostility, deference to ideas instead of mindless destruction, and mining the better parts of our nature throughout this season of unrest and uncertainty is what each of us who considers ourselves adults should be modelling for our young people. Theories aside, practicality demands that we step up.
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