Models of Who We Might Be: Finding the Quiet that Reveals Truths and Informs Our Voice

We are all influenced by others, constantly, and more often than we like to admit. It doesn’t matter if we’re young or old or the time or place. When we’re with certain friends, we act and respond one way. When we’re in school or work or with parents, we present ourselves differently. As the philosopher Aristotle said, we’re political or social beings, even the shyest and most independent of us.

 

Yet, even surrounded by others we can feel alone, isolated inside our heads as if our joys and pains were what separated us from others, not united us. We might breathe in and out as if each breath secluded us from the world instead of weaving us together. Our minds can feel filled with static when we haven’t learned how to adjust the channels to a receptive station.

 

The French philosopher and author J. P. Sartre had a character in his play No Exit say that hell is other people. What if this hell was caused by an obstructed or inauthentic view of our self? What if we had a model to follow who could show us how to live and think in authentic ways that are now hidden by contemporary culture?

 

And sometimes, there is just silence inside us, which can be frightening⎼ or wonderful. Frightening as it reveals that so much is unknown and unknowable, not as set and secure as we might like it to be. And other times, silence is welcome, calming, freeing, or exciting and full of possibilities. What if there are models out there of how to hear silence as the natural sound of mind in tune with the world?

 

I was recently in a bookstore and found The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers, by Eric Weiner. It is about dead thinkers, mostly men, mostly white, unfortunately. But the book is fun to read and examines not only what the philosophers said but who they were and how they lived.

 

Socrates was a monumental figure in Western thought, and in my own life. Or maybe it’s just the myth of Socrates. Because he died 2421 years ago, and he wrote nothing. We know him only through what others said of him. It’s not the living person that we know but an image carved by history to serve our collective needs. Or maybe he has become what  psychiatrist Carl Jung called an archetype or pattern of thought and behavior that can guide us to develop ourselves psychologically, morally, and spiritually.

 

Weiner depicts Socrates as a practitioner of what Buddhists call “crazy wisdom,” someone who casts aside social norms, risking everything to jolt others into new understandings. And he did risk everything. At the age of 71, he was imprisoned and forced to commit suicide by the authorities of his home city of Athens, supposedly for corrupting youth, but most likely because he provoked questions people found uncomfortable….

 

*Please share and go to the Good Men Project to read the whole post.

The Interview

 

Sasha Lilley, producer and interviewer of Pacifica Radio’s Against The Grain, interviewed me a few weeks ago. The interview was about alternative education or student centered learning, the attacks on public schools, how to teach to meet the needs of a diverse population, and how to teach critical thinking using mindfulness. It was aired on the radio last week. Here is a link to it.

 

Mon 6.16.14 | The Radical Philosophy of Alternative Public Education | Against the Grain: A Program about Politics, Society and Ideas

 

In the interview, I talked about using questions to engage students and develop their critical intellect. As an illustration, I used the historical question: Why was Socrates executed by his city-state, Athens? In the interview, I did not give adequate background to the question.

 

Socrates, who was one of the most influential philosophers in history, certainly Western history, was probably both a hero and a pain in the butt. His methods clearly irritated many of his contemporaries. He was charged with impiety and with corrupting minors, by encouraging his students to question their assumptions and beliefs. He was the teacher of several notable people, including Plato, who taught Aristotle, who taught Alexander The Great. He was executed in 399 BCE, just five years after Athens had lost the Peloponnesian Wars, had lost their once glorious empire and seen their democracy destroyed and rebuilt. The wars had spanned over 30 years. When given the opportunity to escape a death sentence but be exiled from his home, he declined. So, why was Socrates executed?

 

I was also unclear in explaining why test scores are poor vehicles for diagnosing what students have learned. When tests compare student achievement, as by using a curve or by ranking how the student stood in relation to other students, they do not say what a student actually knows. If everyone in a group does poorly, scoring 90% does not mean you did well. If everyone in the group is a high achieving student, scoring only 10% might be vey good.

 

And there are so many other reasons not to use standardized tests to assess student, teacher, or school achievement. So, why are the tests still pushed?

 

Also, this week LACS received good news. The radio interviewer asked me if an alternative school, which de-emphasized tests, grades and competition, could prepare students for the tests and other challenges of the world. I said yes. To support my assertion, the SAT scores for the year were announced this week. LACS outscored all the other schools in upstate New York. (Despite this, I still argue that standardized tests infringe on learning more than they assess it.)

 

I hope you enjoy the interview. Any questions or comments?

 

 

*The mural is by LACS students. The blue ox is the Blue ACS, symbol of the school.