Oct 26, 2014

September 22, 2014: I Am a Log, Serious Stuff, Platitudes Bromides and Certainties.

As I recall it, well now over 40 years after the fact, I was sitting in the classroom studying psychology when Professor Morgan asked the assembled to draw pictures of who we thought we were, with a few notes of explanation.  Shortly we began to go around the room and each student duly presented his or her artwork and accompanied by a brief oral discription of who they were.  When he got to me I produced a picture of a log, explaining that I was just sitting there like an old log observing the world as it passed by.  Professor Morgan, a bit taken aback asked incredulously, “What’s a log, man?”  “I don’t know, but whatever it is its more natural than being an electrical engineer or administrator” was my reply.  A hush settled about the room generated by a certain uneasiness as the assembled moved about a bit in their chairs.  “Explain, if you will”, intoned the professor.   “I am not my occupation”, I said, “I am more than that.  I exist, I occupy space in this time on this planet, while I’m here I am many things, most of all a social animal embedded in a web of social relationships all of which define who I am.  It’s more than a question of vocation, or economics, we are all larger than the pidgeonholes in which we sometimes all too willingly allow ourselves to be contained and defined”.   “That’s serious stuff” remarked the professor. 

 My contributions to the class consisted of scoring two principle points.  First the infamous “I am a Log” statement in which I tried to drive home the point that the essence of personhood is not and should not be narrowly defined by one’s occupation.  The second point came at the end of the class.  The students were asked to tell the class what their grade should be and defend it.  There were two, what seemed to me at the time, ‘old’ ladies who commuted together each day down from Whitehall to take classes.  The ladies in question were, I suppose, in their 40’s at the time working on their degrees in hopes of becoming elementary school teachers.  Now it transpires that it just so happened that this class, all about child development and pedagogy, was at the vangard of a new approach to teaching little Jane and Johnny.  In the hopes of stirring latent ‘creativity’ it was thought, the old school approach of sitting at desks and being confronted with a structured program was hopelessly outdated to be replaced by an ‘open’ classroom where the young charges would be allowed to wander about and, when he or she became ready, the student would naturally, following some inherent curiousity, sit down and master the task at hand.  I saw the movement as a passing fad, like modern Rap, but just like the modern musical abortion this proved to be one of those institutional movements that would endure.  In any case when the ladies presented their case for their grades to the class, a rather condescending classmate opined that it was refreshing indeed that the old foggies should, at such a late date, still have the mental abilities, as well as the extraordinary courage to adopt new ideas.  The exchange, after a time, went beyond unsettling and began to resemble harrange bordering on harrassment.  I moved to step in.

 I raised my hand and had no trouble at all getting the attention of Professor Morgan who by this time was becoming visibly uneasy.  Gaining recognition and the floor I began my observation.  “You know I’ve been at this institution for four years now and have read many books. I have labored long and hard over this time and at quite an expense.  It is at once gratifying and depressing that I find myself here today.  Gratifying that I have at last found, between the covers of this textbook the TRUTH.  I need look no further, for alas, we have indeed reached the pinnacle if not the end of the quest for knowledge.  I can, therefore rest from my labors and enjoy a lifetime in quiet repose.  I am depressed though because the TRUTH, it transpires, has been right beneath my nose all the time and it has taken so long for me to find it and for this institution to lead me to it.  I suspect, though, that in 40 time some enterprising ‘expert’ in the field of education will make his or her reputation by proposing a program of matriculation that is wholly at odds with what we have learned here and this program will likewise be received with all the enthusiasm and certainty that we currently are showering on the authors of this text.”  The dear Doctor simply nodded with a wry smile, acknowleging the point and relieved that the tension had left the room. One must be careful with platitudes, bromides and certainties.  One must not be about the business of erecting monuments lest one be slain by a falling statue.  A healthy skepticism is in order for without it one loses one’s peripheral vision and what is presented to us as certainty all to often is simple illusion. 

 Alas, Professor Morgan, one of those cherished few souls with courage to wander outside the ‘box’, was soon pressured to leave my alma mater, soon to be replaced with god know’s what since the Governor had placed the likes of Richard DeVos, he of the Scamway company, on the Board of Control.  But before he left, I was priveleged to be among those who benefitted by his insights and willingess to have his students confront life and the meaning of life. 

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