A poet friend of mine once told me “I cannot write a good poem when I am happy”, and I understood. I am most compelled to write when I am depressed, concerned, worried, paranoid, hurt, angry, pick any word you want, but not often “happy”. The blog entries I have written here over the past few years are proof.
I have noticed a recurring theme in my entries. I often match a belief in the importance of trying to do good and right in the world with doubt that it makes any difference in my own life. I absolutely believe that good people can do great things, but I often doubt that I am a good person. I doubt because I see more evidence in the world that I am not going good, and less of the opposite. And yet, isn’t faith supposed to be believing without seeing? “Proof” negates “faith”.
As I near the end of my teaching career, I seem to care more, and accomplish less. If I were my boss I would be wondering why a subordinate of mine always seems to be in the midst of controversy, and why that employee seems to spend a lot of time explaining why good intentions go bad. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I have laid down more than a few stones.
I know I believe in much less than I did 10 years or so ago. Unlike the early days of school reform, I do not believe that my school district can make itself better. I do not believe that public education in this country can reform itself. I know why I believe this, and it goes back to ‘proof’. I have no experiential knowledge of it happening. I do not believe I will live to see it happen because people only offer simple solutions to complex problems, and the roots of the dysfunction in my local system, and the national system, lie in deep cultural problems we cannot, or will not address.
American exceptionalism? After a decade in which our government has a lower favorability rating than colonoscopies? After my country decided it was appropriate to invade other countries, to take away the rights of American citizens and to torture non-citizens? My country may be measurably better than others in some respects, but it is also measurably worse in others. The only thing we do exceptionally well is to defend guns and slaughter school children. No, I do not believe in American exceptionalism.
I have no faith in my church as an institution. After the child abuse scandal and the ongoing stupidities of Roman Catholic church politics, I doubt the sanity of anyone who still believes in an institution whose actions can only be seen as the actions of an organization hell-bent on destroying itself. I have no faith in the Church’s ability to reform itself.
Despite the fact that I work with outstanding people, I think that anyone of them could and would be ‘thrown under the bus’ if politically expedient. That says something about moral leadership, but I think the same is true in any organization, educational, religious, governmental, or business. We are nothing special here in that respect, not worse, but not better. Or so I believe. I do not believe in my community, and I do not believe in the parents of the students I teach. This does not mean I think everything is universally bad, but I do think that the odds are stacked against those trying to make a better world.
The last thing I had faith was my students. I believed that if they received enough help, early enough, that despite their backgrounds, problems, tragedies, triumphs, they would be the ones with a fighting chance to make a better world. I believed in their generations much more than my own. I believed that if I cared enough, I could help them despite my many flaws. I have had some evidence that this was true. Now evidence is accumulating that I do more damage than good.
I am not sure I believe in my students’ chances, or abilities, to make better lives for themselves or others anymore. I still hope with the right kind of guidance they can. I am sure however, that my time, if I had a time, has come and gone. I do not believe that I make a difference, and I do not think I can, not anymore.
And yet…….still…..I believe it is important to try…….I believe a difference can be made.