Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Treasure of Knowledge

Silent Hallway / Winter 2014 - C. Mirus
"A treasure I have never learned, lost in the distance of knowledge."

This is a line on a student's paper, from some forgotten homework assignment. I don't remember which student, and I don't remember the context. I don't think it matters. What does matter is the message of the quote. What matters is the feeling the student had when she wrote it. I choose to analyze this line and apply it to my experience and knowledge of the students I have taught and interacted with.

The latter part uses traveling and journey metaphors. A student in a classroom knows what knowledge is. Every student has been exposed to a variety of other students. The outliers of a class consist of both the top and the bottom of the spectrum. With some classrooms moving towards inclusion, and some maintaining tracking, this exposure has changed throughout a students' school life, starting from kindergarten, through high school, and to some, college. Knowledge is the smart kid in the front, the one you aren't friends with. Knowledge is the teacher in a class where no one thinks they are smart. It is the lecture you don't understand. It is in the books the worm reads instead of playing video games. Knowledge is classified as book or street smarts. I have street smarts, that's enough. I've got it figured out. Knowledge is unnecessary, it isn't present on the block, in the group, or the corner you know. It is a foreign land spoken with a foreign language. Knowledge is a culture that is different, and therefore scary. I'm not scared, I just don't care.

By high school, however, the distance is so vast that you can't point fingers. Students enter 4 or 5 grade levels behind in most subjects. They are lost. Standards put a baseline up for everyone, and that causes the distance to grow. In a foreign land, lost, everything seems further away, safety seems distant. All the streets look the same and are confusing. People walk with purpose, imposing even more fear and disorientation. You grasp on to common images and ideas, try to survive by making sense of what you learned in the past. They keep your head afloat, sometimes, but not your mind.

All of this because you never learned that treasure, that pearl, that nugget of something. It may have started as missing one idea, day, word, sentence... but cultivated into something more. To develop a skill takes practice, as does the opposite. You learn how to be helpless: a learned helplessness. It is easier to give up, to fit in with the crowd and their average, then it ever would be to stand out in a positive manner. You pretend to fit in and go along with the traffic. You act like everyone else. You belong. You move with the flow and only stand out when you are accused of not fitting or targeted for being different. You are still lost, even if you pretend otherwise.

The treasure becomes something difficult to obtain. It is the grass piece in a puzzle of a prairie. It is something missing, but it is so much more. It is the missing link. It creates a connection between where you are and where you can be. But, the treasure can be more than even that. It can be the grit that you need but never worked on. It can bring you to where you need to be. Or, it can make you struggle more, become frustrated more, and lose yourself further in the distance.

The answer is ominous. This sentence can be applied to all students. It can be laid on the brightest students. This is the recognition that there is more to life, more knowledge. It is floating in libraries, books, lectures and lands foreign in many ways.

This quote reminds me of Plato's cave. Few escape the cave, even though all had the opportunity. Those that did escape felt changed from where they were, and from the people there. They couldn't go back without regressing. Those in the cave found anyone that left to be different. This quote extends the allegory by including the heavens. I can escape the cave, you can too; but then we put a man on the moon, and we realize there is more.