Thursday, June 18, 2015

the brunswick factor

(from the introduction to 'My Mentor, Franz Kafka; A Dream Journal' by Hans and Lee Brunswick)

For some bizarre reason I was subbing in a third grade classroom yesterday and in preparation for their first big archaeology test I found myself asking them a series of very awkward and unusual questions, per their teacher's hastily handwritten lesson plans/instructions, which so discombobulated everyone, including myself, that in a very rare but very serious lapse of academic professionalism, I started wondering aloud and at length about what the late Chogyam Trungpa might have referred to as this teacher's basic or core or ground-level or general sanity while at the same time ruefully acknowledging that, yes, in other pedagogical contexts these were all probably very helpful and pertinent archaeological questions, and that as important as this upcoming test was for their respective futures at Garfield Elementary School, home of the Gophers, civilization itself probably didn't hinge on their answers, nor on me- a mere substitute, there one day, gone the next- ascertaining and asking the relevant follow-up questions, which the teacher wrongly assumed I would easily be able to do on my own by "drawing on whatever personal fund of basic Socratic techniques and/or principles you've picked up over the course of your distinguished career", and besides, the note continued, these were all "subjective terms" anyway, akin to a sprawling expanse of unexplored natural territory, or better yet, "uni-cycling alone through a semi-protected and moderately-sized wilderness area", informally reviewing the ancient concept of leaving one's karmic debts behind "for an hour or so" while furiously pedaling upon the uneven surface of the "hard-packed geological structure" along an intricate series of "clearly marked and hopefully well-maintained trails."


Before I cast any stones, I must humbly confess that many of my own favorite techniques as a sub have not, in the long run, at least according to witnesses, turned out to be very successful. They seemed super cool at the time, and the kids seemed to be fairly into them, but alas, sometimes I run into these very students years later, and they recognize me, and by this time they have clearly developed the perspective and confidence to tell me how they really felt about the situation back then, which was that my skills were sub par, and that the school district must have been in very bad shape indeed to have been reduced to hiring on people like me. None of them ever came right out and said I was the worst substitute ever, but it was implied, over and over, and in such a matter-of-fact kind of way that I began to have a newfound appreciation for those scenes in The Trial in which Joseph K sits motionlessly in his office for hours and even days at a stretch, wearily gazing at the snow falling outside the window and wondering about the efficacy of drawing up a brief account of his life, and for any events of importance explaining precisely why he had behaved as he did and whether in retrospect he approves or disapproves of those behaviors.

Joseph K was of course under much more pressure than me. Not only do I enjoy substituting, but despite what I keep hearing from former students and colleagues, I continue to firmly believe that I have something of moderate value to offer our young people, and that perhaps it is even enhanced by the 'there one day, gone the next' nature of this peculiar profession.