With Apologies to Bob Carter: Apparently, Poor Planning on Someone Else’s Part Does Constitute an Emergency on My Part!

That’s a great quote from Bob Carter. I wish I could truly live it out, but the nature of public high school for this English teacher is that other people’s poor planning does become my emergency, or it becomes my urgency to get out of the way of the consequences of such poor planning. I doubt that it’s wise or prudent to go too much into detail for my context and this school year, but my view of importance and urgency clearly differs from other folks’.

I used to have quite a bit of optimism that I could study time management, productivity strategies, leadership, and plenty of thoughtful resources to get better at working with the chronic crushing Chronos of my setting. (Unfortunately, I don’t have time to blog about Karios versus Chronos modes of time, and how well that distinction could fit with a more humane I-Thou versus I-It approach to time, leadership, and culture.) I’m finding that I can only try to get through it.

Last spring, I knew that e.e. cummings’ poem would characterize our return to busyness this fall: “pity this busy monster, manunkind…”

I think many people mean well who are part of this tangled, mangled mess of culture and institution, but we’ve confused quality of life with quantity of activity, and I feel this more than ever as I try to stuff a semester’s worth of learning into seven and a half weeks’ worth of time. In an effort to be humane to my students, I’m cutting content and assignments like one of those slick used car salesman, but in doing so we’re missing the “grace of great things” that I’ve blogged about previously.

Meanwhile, so many people have so many things they want to put into the schedule “for the students.” It reminds me of my favorite T.S. Eliot quote:

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.” --from The Cocktail Party. 

That serves as a warning to me too. I’m not immune from causing trouble with my own great ideas and lurking motives to think well of myself. Along these lines, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the theme of “unintended consequences.” (That seems like a good theme for a course of study with students, come to think of it.)

I do think that people mean well, but we’ve got so many well-meaning cooks (from the state to the local level) in the kitchen that we can’t cook or serve well, let alone think straight.

In the chaos and challenge of all this, I have been getting some small success with rethinking my curriculum. I’ve reordered my junior English curriculum to focus on historical samplings of persuasive texts, from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr. I’ve just about finished the main sampling, and I think I’ve got my students set up to understand the dynamics of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible as we consider the problems of unrestrained pathos destroying Salem as well as McCarthy-era American society.

I was able to get some traction in the midst of this chaos by asking myself a simple question: Isn’t everything rhetorical?

There’s something helpful about that as I consider various selves, societies, and sciences in the search to promote more humane teaching and learning midway through this semester’s journey, finding myself in a dark, noisy, and cluttered wood.

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