Monday, July 30, 2012

The Wisdom of Patience

Summer.  A break from teaching.  Routines and schedules cast aside.  The greatest blessing and sometimes curse for families.

There is a reason that neither myself or my wife are stay at home parents.  We wouldn’t be very good at it.  But for six or seven weeks each summer we handle it pretty well.  Usually. 

During our week of vacation my patience was tested early.  Before we even left to give an exact time.  Details aside, I’d lost my patience with my wife and my children.  I wasn’t satisfied with our plans, and the uncertainty rattled me.  That’s anxiety.  Anxiety is rooted in the future.  It’s worry about how things will turn out.  A little anxiety is a good thing.  Otherwise we’d never be motivated to do anything.

Most anxiety is misplaced.  We look to the future with a dread.  Something bad is going to happen.  Usually it’s not as bad as we imagine.  But this persistent anxiety about future events can wreak some pretty serious havoc in the present.  We act out of fear and worry instead of reasoned judgment.

At least that’s how I’m justifying how much I’ve yelled at my children the last few days.  Anxiety erodes the sound practice of patience.  In raising children, patience allows us to properly guide them, and discipline them if necessary toward the behaviors and habits that benefit their growth.  Anxiety leads us to discourage and minimize the behaviors and actions that cause personal stress for the parent.

Even in dealing with our own children as parents, a posture of anxiety  is usually self-serving while the discipline of patience serves the best interest of all.

It makes sense that it would take summer break to teach a teacher the value of patience.

If there is a scarcity of any value in our society, patience is certainly one.  Our tight economy has generated a national anxiety over the future.  We need to stress over this situation if we ever want to get out of it, but we also need to keep a reasoned head and not allow anxiety to guide our decisions at the expense of reason.

Our leaders are anxious and exercise too much top-down control.  From division leaders to the secretary of Education, anxiety about funding, test scores, and the future of education in a digital age pushes the agenda for leading from the front, often at the expense of valuable input from teachers, students, and the general public.  They usually act in what they believe is the best interest of “the system” but often ignore the expressed needs of the very system they serve.

The recent dismissal of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan by the Board of Visitors fits this description well.  A Rector anxiety about funding and getting behind in the digital age executed a manipulative and dictatorial decision, made behind closed doors and in the presence of only a few.

Members of our business and commercial world are anxious.  They’ve managed to build successful ventures through the booms of the past two decades and economic growth has stalled.  They fear for the long-term future of their legacies, but also for the short term future of their own welfare in a stagnate economy.  Instead of focusing on the failures that lead us down this road, they look to education to solve their problems by pushing for implementation of the same business models that failed to save our economy already.

Parents and students are anxious.  They’re strapped for time more than any generation before.  They’re concerned about the rising cost of education and its comparative value in an increasingly dim job market. 

Teachers are anxious.  In unionized states, rights are being stripped away, and in states like Virginia, several years of diminishing salaries are now being hit with cuts to benefits.  They’re expected to do more with less.

Vain activity rarely calms anxiety.  It makes it worse.  Perhaps we could use a little patience.  Stop looking to an imagined future of despair and deal rationally with the current reality in which we live.  The opposite of the current wave of reactionary decision-making in education isn’t status quo, it’s reasoned and informed action. 

It is time we stop making decisions out of anxiety, with no other purpose than to alleviate our imagined fears and start patiently making reasonable decisions that will carry us successfully into the future.

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