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The Tradeoffs and Complexities of Reality
Hello and happy Tuesday!
I hope you’re well and ready for this week’s stuff!
ONE FROM THE AGES
My favorite chapter from the Tao Te Ching, on being receptive and adaptable:
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving. A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants. A good scientist has freed himself of concepts and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people and doesn’t reject anyone. He is ready to use all situations and doesn’t waste anything. This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job? If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, however intelligent you are. It is the great secret.”
Source: Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell Translation
ONE FROM TODAY
Robert Greene on how shortsighted thinking often creates far larger issues:
“ … alarmed by something in the present we grab for a solution without thinking deeply about the context, the roots of the problem, the possible unintended consequences that might ensue. Because we mostly react instead of think, our actions are based on insufficient information.”
Source: The Laws of Human Nature, by Robert Greene
ONE FROM US
This past week the CDC released their guidelines for resuming school next year and the hilarious Lexington, Kentucky principal, Gerry Brooks, did a great job demonstrating just how “rerdiculous” and “erresponsible” these were. His message set off a wave of righteous indignation among the educators who would be charged with trying to enforce these unrealistic “sergestions.” While I’m thrilled to see people calling bullshit and I agree that the CDC is doing more harm than good by pretending schools can isolate thousands of students in little sterilized bubbles, I was not surprised by these guidelines.
Modern education is defined by impossible directives and utopian delusions such as these. Teachers are given broad state-mandated curriculums, limited by policies that give students little incentive to pay attention, and are then told to foster depth and critical thinking skills. It’s kind of like hiring a contractor to build you a house and then asking him to double the square-footage while keeping the price and deadline the same. Don’t be surprised when you find the foundation is shallow and the construction shoddy.
We pretend that we can cover an ever-expanding number of concepts while also finding time to teach good writing, logic, and all those hard to measure problem-solving skills that matter most. We tell parents we will individualize every lesson to their child’s particular needs, accommodate every weakness, and ensure their child is never picked on. Over and over we tell people to expect the impossible and then commit to creating the illusion that we are delivering.
The CDC’s regulations are just another example of pretending we can do the impossible so that mainstream society doesn’t have to confront the uncomfortable realities of our complex world. We want to pretend that we can eliminate any chance of harm. We want our authorities to tell us that they can guarantee that nothing bad will happen - that every inequality will be remedied, no child will be left behind, and every student will be pushed to the peak of their potential. But there are always tradeoffs in life. We can seek to balance competing priorities, but we have to come to terms with our complex reality.
Progress is only possible when we commit to dialogue, driven by an honest search for truth. People will have different values. Some will say the economic, emotional, and developmental costs of keeping our children home from school any longer are far too great - that we have to be willing to accept some deaths for the greater long term benefit. This is, after all, what we’ve always done in times of war and, at least the majority of these deaths would be those who had less life ahead of them. Others will say that the inevitable increase in COVID-19 cases is too big of a cost and that we should stick with online learning - that in 2020 we should be able to make online learning work.
This begs for more information and understanding. Would going to school be more dysfunctional than staying home if we were to follow CDC guidelines - locking kindergarteners in one classroom all day while punishing them for getting out of their seats or removing their masks? Assuming schools don’t even entertain that delusion, what will school actually look like for students? Is it just a normal school with more hand washing or are there other options more realistic than the CDC’s? Should there be recess and PE? If not, will this reinforce the negative mental and physical health habits that have already been ravaging our nation and lead to more long-term deaths than the coronavirus? Does online learning actually work? Is it busyness posing as learning? Is it only a viable option for the children of wealthy and highly educated parents who are able to support their children with technology, expectations, and academic support? If so, are there any realistic options to help bridge the gap?
The number of considerations is infinite and no solution will be perfect. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t better and worse solutions. The only way to move towards doing the best we can is to be honest. Now is the time for maturity. Its time for us to define our values while trying to understand differing opinions. We need to have the integrity to seek truth however hard, the courage to make decisions despite uncertainty, and the humility to adapt when we find we’re wrong. If we can agree on this, then we can overcome a lot of differences and even grow stronger from them.
No system can ever be sophisticated enough to solve every issue. Thus, we should focus on building a sense of personal responsibility in ourselves and especially in our children. This prompts real freedom and empowerment.
Thanks for reading! If you are interested in this line of thinking, check out my piece, The Cost of Utopian Delusions. Also, relevant:
Izzy Kalman has done a great job revealing how the anti-bullying movement exacerbates the very problems it seeks to solve. His latest, Why Is The Anti-Bullyism Movement Failing, is worth the read.
Mark Manson’s latest gets to the root of a lot of these issues while offering phenomenal advice on building resiliency.
Life is too short to be normal,