Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I really enjoyed our end of class discussion the other day, that sent everyone out with the questions: "How invested are you in making your life easier? How much are you willing to limit your belief in possibility?" I found an interesting new article (!...if you want... that brought this into an interesting focus in regards to how teachers view the potential of their students, and its effects on education.

Just running on this educational focus for a little, I've heard a rumor that applicants applying to Teach for America are asked the question "Do you think a teacher alone can help a student succeed?" This seems a very Kierkegaardian question in regards to the limiting of possibilities. TFA wants teachers who sincerely believe that all students have the potential to be other than what they are at face value -- poor students,in poor schools, from low income families, with statistically poor chances of doing well in the classroom -- and not teachers who have already formed assumptions and blocked off possibilities on how much their students will be able to achieve. Even though this is just what I've heard, and probably not true then, if the teacher candidate answers the question up above saying "No, I think that educational environment, family, home-life,...are all very important to a student's education as well" the result is that they will not get a position.

More generally, while I understand Kierkegaard's claim that limiting our expectations of other people's possibilities is in a way limiting their freedom to become anything other than we expect them to be, I wonder at what point our subjective truths become objective, or when it is ok to assume possibilities closed.
What are the benefits of allowing everyone we meet the possibilities that they could be or become an infinite number of things, when doing so only increases our anxiety? Unlike TFA, that encourages teachers to look for the best in all of the students, actually being open to all possibilities would mean assuming people could be better than we think they are, but also recognizing that everything might be worse than we can imagine. How much hope would this give to a TFA teacher, though? In their case,if that evaluation question is true, the teachers are people who are encouraged to only think the best, and deny themselves the possibility of the worst, which I think is denying a lot.

For example, if I am going to let myself believe in possibility, I would have as much reason to believe that the people I see could kill me as they could be my friends, could yell at me or pass me by completely. This would provide good reason to be anxious, if these are the possibilities that exist. An alternative might be the middle approach of accepting people as they are without passing any judgment or being anxious, which isn't an alternative that existentialism would be 100% happy with admitting as it rubs against the idea that everyone has the possibility to be anything.

I guess my problem with the idea of opening ourselves up to possibilities, to anxiety, is that the freedom it signifies sounds like a good thing, but it comes at a miserable cost. Opening up to possibilities seems to take away from prospects for happiness, leaving a person warily approaching life conscious that any given moment or person could be either kind or dangerous. Why would anyone want to think of these possibilities, if by instead of denying possibilities to others they may misjudge people entirely, either with good or bad results, but have a lot to gain as far as preserving their personal happiness and well being is concerned? It also seems like the individual who truly accepted the call to be open to all possibilities in others would be the quintessential individual. Anxious, not knowing what to expect of the people and world around them, they would also be very alone since the only thing they could really know and not be anxious about would be their own individuality and nothing else.

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