September 21, 2008


The ATR crisis heats up, and when the going gets rough, some of us head for the woods.

This time I took a book with me, one that I hadn’t leafed through in fifty years. Maybe you can recognize it . . .
There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time. He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew and that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move.
And it made me think for a moment about those great moments in the classroom when you sail free on the totality of your skills, and you just know you’re teaching full out and the kids are taking it all in, your energy and the joy of learning as much as the content of the lesson. No one can teach that in a college classroom or in a TFA prep course. It comes after years of doing this challenging work, and there are no shortcuts.
The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buck, and under the fierce conditions of trail life it grew and grew. Yet it was a secret growth. His newborn cunning gave him poise and control.

As the Joel Kleins, Michelle Rhees and all the other trail bosses of Educorp swamp us with inane directives, PR exaggerations and distortions, soul-destroying testing policies, and games of gotcha and dominance on so many levels, it's good to take a step back and look at what kinds of people these are.

Buck had no love for Perrault and François, but he recognized them as trail leaders. But the two men and a woman from the States he got sold to a few weeks later had never run a dog team in the Yukon before. They were “manifestly out of place, and why such as they should adventure the North is part of the mystery of things that passes understanding.” So it is with people whose soul is not in teaching, but in the business of teaching.
Buck felt there was no depending upon these two men and the woman. They did not know how to do anything, and as the days went by it became apparent that they could not learn. They were slack in all things, without order or discipline. It took them half the night to pitch a slovenly camp, and half the morning to break that camp and get the sled loaded in fashion so slovenly that for the rest of the day they were occupied in stopping and rearranging the load. Some days they did not make ten miles. On other days they were unable to get started at all. And on no day did they success in making more than half the distance used by the men as a basis in their dogfood computation.

It was inevitable that they should go short on dog-food. But they hastened it by overfeeding . . . Then came the underfeeding. . . They were frustrated by their heavy outfit and their own incompetence. . . . Not only did they not know how to work dogs, but they did not know how to work themselves.
Charles, Hal and Mercedes were not made for the trail. They didn’t get it, they couldn’t get it, and most certainly, they didn’t want to get it. Nor does Joel Klein.
Arctic travel became to them a reality too harsh for their manhood and womanhood. ... The wonderful patience of the trail which comes to men who toil hard and suffer sore, and remain sweet of speech and kindly, did not come to these two men and the woman. They had no inkling of such patience. They were stiff and in pain; their muscles ached, their bones ached, their very hearts ached; and because of this they became sharp of speech, and hard words were first on their lips in the morning and last at night.

So there are times when the beast in us has to follow our instincts, cross “alone from the smiling timberland” and come down into a open space among the trees. And like the long, lean timber wolf erect on haunches with nose pointed to the sky, give out that song “distinct and definite as never before — a long-drawn howl, like, yet unlike any noise made by a husky dog.”

Because it’s in our nature, this Call of the Wild, and it’s not in theirs. It’s our song to sing, and we can find our way back to it. In fact we owe it to ourselves to do that, and we owe it to our students.

1 comment:

  1. Great analogy! It makes a lot of sense. As teachers, we recognize that these so called pack leaders are unfit to lead us, which is why we resist them so strongly.
    On the other hand, I imagine that this is why they are seeking to obtain a new "pack" - namely untrained, passive individuals who will go along with whatever they say-more like sheep than wolves, really.