One of the books I tragically forgot to mention in my reading list post was Walking On Water: Reading, Writing, Revolution. The book struck me profoundly when I first read it a few years ago, and struck me again the second time around this summer. It’s worth a quick reflection as I begin a new year in the classroom.
Derrick Jensen is a writing instructor who teaches at community colleges and prisons. He structures the book to mirror the progression of his course week to week. Each chapter is a different week is a different theme. He is teaching writing but he is really teaching life. How to think. Why to think. How to question: What does it all mean?
Jensen hates authority, or at least the kind of authority that imposes on your freedom for no good reason. (He doesn’t mention any good reasons.) He hates the kind of power that demands compliance for the sake of compliance. Worse, he thinks the forces of modern society are turning human spirits into industrial cogs.
And how does society succeed at crushing the human spirit, molding it into a compliant robot that punches clocks and pays taxes?
Jensen also hates what school represents. Sit down, shut up. Listen. Write this down. Answer these questions. No, that answer is wrong. Please follow directions.
To Jensen, the human being is born free and curious. Left to his own exploration, a child will want to know more, want to explore and learn.
Only when shoved into a four-walled enclosure and given orders do children learn to hate learning.
This view is, of course, extreme. Certainly there is room in society for rules and discipline. To learn, there must be some structure, some order, some guidance. But it makes me wonder. What is the end-game for our education? What is the goal?
It feels like we take certain things for granted. Things like “college” and “GPA.” More often it seems we proceed by tradition and social benchmarks, rather than what’s truly good for humanity.
In my own experience, I benefited from a handful of courses in college. A few psychology professors greatly influenced me with their teaching style and expertise. But my college degree seemed more of a social stamp of approval, rather than an actual training ground for the real world.
Only after my career as a student ended did I become serious about the pursuit of knowledge. When I started teaching psychology, I started studying it deeply for the first time. This pursuit opened new curiosities, new pursuits. I discovered a desire to learn more about history and religion and economics and politics.
The value of these pursuits struck me only when the obligation to study them was over. My interest in reading and writing coincided with a personal crisis: a revolution of the heart.
I’m continually grateful for people like Derrick Jensen who see beyond and challenge the status quo. Amid the rat race, he strives for originality and authenticity. In doing so, he grants others permission to do the same.