A friend wrote as her facebook status: “I’m thankful to live in a country where there are fair and free elections.” Unfortunately, she received a number of negative replies to this post, most of which pointed out (in some fashion or another) that our country and “system” are deeply flawed.
Reading those posts reminded me of the two sides of our national story: what we aspire to be, vs. what we are. We aspire to lofty ideals such as social equality, fair opportunity, mutual respect and kindness. We may fall short, but it’s important to remember to keep those ideals in sight, to keep stretching toward them. It’s the only way we’ll ever get better.
The same principles apply in the academy. We aspire to have an important and lasting effect on our students and our society. We hope that our students will be bright, eager, and attentive, anxious to learn and motivated to think deeply about new ideas. We hope that our teachers will be equally motivated to make the learning experience compelling, to create a classroom environment that’s a safe place to experiment with ideas and to question social norms.
We fall short. In our daily experience, we know that students are sometimes lazy and unmotivated, willing only to go through the motions to collect a passing grade. And as teachers, we don’t always give full effort to planning lessons, grading papers, and making the experience as interesting as possible. The image of the eager student and nurturing teacher dims, or falls apart entirely, as we muddle through the days and weeks of each school term.
And yet … I refuse to abandon the ideal. I want to keep stretching toward it. I have to believe there is a spark of interest inside each student, and it’s possible to fan it into a flame. I have to believe that I can make a difference in the lives of my students, and members of my community. I refuse to accept the status quo, or fall into the trap of believing that nothing will ever change, that students don’t care, that faculty are jaded, that this isn’t a magical place.
I’d rather keep the top of the mountain in sight, even if I never get there.