Posts Tagged ‘education’

I Told You So!

January 11, 2015

It has happened exactly as I have feared. My newly reacquired profession as a classroom teacher has absorbed me so completely that very simply there has been no spare time to write about my many interesting experiences. And interesting experiences I certainly had, plenty of them! But now that we have once again crossed the threshold into a new year, there must be somewhere a quick opportunity to take a breath or two, and let you in on what has been happening here in the tidy and highly controlled garden of Switzerland.


First in the order of all things I have to tell you that this teaching business is very simply a task impossible to do right. You can certainly always do your best at any given time and that might be enough if you’re a person easily satisfied. But if you accept your duty to prepare today’s youth at least somewhat adequately for tomorrow’s world, there’s just no way you can achieve perceivable results within the rigid framework of the classroom! So you’re faced with that eternal and extremely beautiful task of making it possible for the impossible to become possible.

It is a familiar chore and for me it means I’m constantly rolling grave doubts around in my head, feverishly working my imagination through a string of scenarios, depicting possible solutions for the many problems that manifest before my eyes persistently every day anew. The bewildered eyes of sixteen students are staring at me like outstretched arms of drowning souls in the tumultuous sea of modern times, and constantly I find myself having to choose. Which one am I able to help, and which ones must I abandon and let them wither away?


In many ways it is a situation very similar to sailing the oceans. Just like out there at sea only calm nerves can efficiently hold a course, and I’m learning to explain complicated problems in very simple terms. My students, of course, want to know nothing of change. They have achieved a first level of personal autonomy by fighting their way through the grinding mill of an education system that without much mercy forms its citizens to be obedient and well adapted. Very understandably they are not willing to give the slightest inch of it away. Any intent of turning their heads toward the real problems around them is resisted fiercely with varying degrees of violence. It is a challenging cat and mouse game where only very agile dancing allows for the tiny opening of little windows here and there.


I’m able to hold on to one important thing, however, and this is something I have learned while building our sailboat Aluna, our floating home, which at this time is taking a good and well-earned break from the ups and downs of the gruesome life on the ocean. In a nutshell it is simply this: Persistence can eat its way through many a sizeable adversary, it is the brain that moves the brawn, the David that fells the Goliath, and it is how what seemed impossible at first, slowly but surely comes into shape, takes its natural course and begins the inevitable transformation towards a healthier future. Only time however will show the fruits of my labor, if there are any at all. We shall have to wait and see, to find out whatever might have been my practical contribution to the shape and form of this new next generation, those very same people that are going to be in charge of calling the shots in our societies once you and I will be old and weary.


The good side of this extreme situation is of course that this impossible task holds me upright, proudly facing the wind, standing up to the fading times, being active at the frontlines of the present civilized life forms that crawl like cybernetic ants all over the planet Earth. And boy, crawl they do! I am observing my fellow citizens here in Switzerland with intense curiosity. In their slightly stiff twists and turns I manage to see what would have happened to me, had I not left my country thirty years ago. How important it is, I realize amazed, that you take your own life into your own hands at the earliest possible age! Had I not run away the chances of reaching escape velocity would have slowly faded away over the years of dutifully accumulating the needed wealth to secure the painful eons of life as a useless pensioner. Steady droplets of bittersweet comfort would have hollowed the stone of my practical wisdom. I would be a humble little wheel in the mill of globalized commerce and my soul a strangulated bundle of hurt.


Many stereotypes fall away when you spend some time with the people they try to characterize. Some of them though they stick, like perfectly shaped to represent the species. One of the stereotypes that refuses to loosen its grip on the Swiss and does not even dissolve by closer and more detailed observation, is these mountain folk’s proverbial dedication. Whatever they do, and wherever they are, they do their things with a furious fervor second to none in the world, and their tireless drive for perfection could well be cause for very cautious admiration to the uncritical eye.


The fact is, of course, I have not spent each and every minute of my life in the classroom during the past couple of months. The ‘Pensum’, the term used here in the Canton of Bern for the amount of time I am obliged to dedicate professionally to the school, is generously ‘locker’, or loose, with some free time available for social activities. I have been fortunate enough to meet with a string of very interesting personalities. Most of them I had retraced from my roots, or at least from where I last remember tearing them out all around me some thirty years ago, during those distant times of upheaval on my early way to adulthood. Some have gotten wind of our return from others or through newspaper articles, some I have run into by chance on a stroll through town, and some I have looked up myself, wanting to check up on them out of my own curiosity. I will try to work on a couple portraits to present them to you over the few months that are left for us here in this country of unbound riches.

The return flight that will bring us back on the adventurous track has been recently changed. You might remember that originally we had planned to be on board a commercial flying machine for the passing into the new year. Now that flight has been postponed and the flight half way across the planet back to our maritime home is set for the second of the merry month of May. We hope that this will give us enough time to clean the barnacles off Aluna’s underbellies and pressure clean the layers of guano from her decks, and then be able to leave the rugged shores of New Zealand just before the onset of the austral winter months with its deteriorating weather. Where to? There is no need to decide that yet. Planning only leads to places we have already seen!


October 4, 2014

Sometimes it does feel like our sailing and travelling adventure has come to a full stop. We have embedded ourselves to such a degree into the thick and sticky web of Swiss normality that at times I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to escape it again. But at closer inspection that is not the case at all. While thanks to my birthright we have had access to the ‘inner circle’, the cream of the society, we continue to live like flashy butterflies at the very edge of things. A row of shiny red and white flower petals serves as a garden bench from where we look in awe at the immense tapestry of the most frenetic activities imaginable that passes before our eyes.

While certainly at the mercy of modernity’s pulse with its slew of abstractions, the job of an educator is a timeless one, where the appearance changes continuously but its essence stays eerily still. The process of shaping human beings and equipping them with whatever they might need for their journey through the treats, tricks and travesties of life is a complicated affair, one that needs absolute dedication, but also one humongous degree of flexibility. There are times in the demanding trade of classroom showmanship when you have to follow strict guidelines, sometimes down to the very letter of the fine print, but at the same time you might find yourself directing a spicy confrontation with an unruly teenage spirit who happens to have no sense whatsoever of fitting into anything, and you must do that without losing any of your sympathy.

My students have the mandatory school years behind them but for one reason or another have not yet found a fitting place in the tightknit world of the adult workforce. Their peers have gone off to start an apprenticeship in a local business where they learn a profession by which they all hope to be able to earn enough financial security and bring up their own family. A few have even gone off to compete with the strenuous demands of higher education, where they will be tested to the core and only if found fit will have access to a material wealth inaccessible to the vast majority of the population. So the tenth school year is a curious kink in the educational landscape of the Canton Bern purposely built to catch the late bloomers to give them one last chance to jump on the bandwagon of an acceptable professional career.

I was fortunate enough to have landed on a kind of a bandwagon myself, being firmly embedded in a groove laid down by a long lasting family tradition. Both my parents were educated teachers and on my mother’s side the pedagogical trade goes back to at least one further generation. My grandfather was a happy chap with sparkling eyes and a very gentle soul, and always with a loving word for us back when we were kids. I remember him surrounded by clouds of exotic smelling smoke from his ever-present pipe at the yearly Christmas celebrations. He fought for social justice with intelligence and passion, and had a definite musical vein. I tuned my very flesh into his parting soul when doing night watches at the bedside as a freshman in college. There his tired body was withering away under the cruel menace of prostate cancer. Painfully slow the life force retreated from his desiccated body and far behind his glassy morphine saturated eyes a torch lit that has provided steady guidance for me through many a dark night.

But to say that teaching runs in our vein sounds a wee bit cheesy and some people would love to jump on that argument with revenge to decry the inborn arrogance in our family lines. The fact is that for the next six months I’ll have a dozen and a half youngsters under my wings and I’ll do twists and turns and many other spiritual circus acts to help them to the necessary tools for their survival in modern society’s merciless catch as catch can. A very complex task is awaiting me in those mottled school halls up on a hill at the outskirts of Langenthal and to round up this short reflection it will not at all be unlike the crossing of very vast and very wavy stretches of unruly oceans we have honed our skills at over the last five years or so. The sense of adventure must certainly prevail and guide my actions once the doubts will come and try to cloud my reasoning. Routine, as much as it is a requisite brought forth by the structure of an orderly educational institution, is the enemy of all living things. It must be broken up and transcended so that the necessary changes, like possible instant insights and raving revelations illuminating those growing minds, can play out freely unhindered by stiff rational limitations.

Adventure cannot be delegated to some remote island deep in the distant seas. It is the salt of life in every day’s doing and undoing. Lifting the chokehold of habit, normality and indifference the real purpose of our actions lies bare and visible, touchable, drinkable, breathable. Unsettle your self and let the drama of reality unfold, engage and expose, live and love, if you happen to know what I mean!