Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Things of Eternal Consequence

I've moved from thinking about teaching, to thinking about learning, to thinking about living. This is the comment I made to a friend today--and I was shocked by the profundity of its implications as I heard it escape my lips! What I was really saying is that as a result of experience, my perspective has expanded, and I am able to see that the most important aims and objects of educational experience ought to involve things of eternal consequence. By implication, I was also admitting that I have allowed trivia to consume more of my time than it merits, while neglecting things far more deserving of my attention.

On the other hand, the connotations of each of those three words (teaching, learning, and living) also imply that I have undergone a powerful transformation--one that has helped me to reframe my role as a teacher, students' roles as learners, and the purposes of the time that we spend together each day.

I think about Deloria & Wildcat's Power and Place and their insistence that we should consider every action through the lens of the impact it will have seven generations after it is initiated. I think of Tom Barone's book, Touching Eternity, and the impact that the teacher whose career it chronicles had on the adult lives of his students. Then I think about the people and ideas that have most influenced who I am, what I value, and where I'm going. How do I actively invest my time in building relationships with ideas, people, and things of eternal consequence? How do I use my personal influence to purposefully design places and set aside times and spaces that will catalyze, nurture, and sustain such work? What would happen to my students if I could accomplish that in ways that riveted our mutual attention on the joy of living instead of on the task of learning or the responsibilities of teaching?

The trick is developing a sense of discernment sharp enough to distinguish what matters and what does not. Saying is different from seeing, and seeing is different from doing. Saying that things of eternal consequence matter is a far different endeavor than seeing which things those are, and identifying things of eternal consequence is far different from knowing what to do about them once they have been named.

For me, I suppose there is a simple pleasure in recognizing that the words I chose represent at least the beginnings of an enduring personal transformation!

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