Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Weight and Lightness of 7/8.3 Students

Milan Kundera used the title of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" to articulate a condition where individuals are poised between equally painful modes of being. The notion of weight is where we are bound to our reality which crushes under its grind and its sense of gravity. Our daily existence is bound by weight as we as humans struggle to make sense of it and provide a moment of respite from its grinding and intense nature. Its opposite is a feeling of lightness, where weight disappears. Yet, at the same time, this particular condition is not rooted in reality and exists outside of it. Simply put, the world of lightness is not real and in order for us to find enjoyment, we are bound by the constraints of reality. Hence, Kundera, and other thinkers like him, poise human beings in the world trapped between the crushing weight of being with the liberating "unreality" of lightness. Somewhere in this dynamic, this dialectic far more powerful than Marx's, is where human beings reside.
Indeed, I could see some of our students poised in the same predicament. For seventh graders, the promises of the Constitution possess a sense of lightness. Its hopes for political liberation out of bondage through its articulated vision of self- determination, political and personal autonomy, and the notions of power coming from the top down provide a sense of hope and eternal optimism. Within its confines of First Amendment expression, individual responsibilities of citizenship, and the Baron's vision of separated government, lightness is offered in exchange of the weight of King George and Shays' Rebellion. Students might not see it this way, as they could very well feel crushed under the weight of studying this experience in lightness. On a nightly basis, students should be feeling a bit of gravity relating to studying the principles and goals of the document, as well as ensuring that they are clear on the system of checks and balances, as well as the different functions of the various branches of government. 2 Friday check ins have come and gone and students should be feeling some level of pressure in terms of coming to obtain the work assigned and completing it. Finally, the severe weight of an exam on the Constitution is forthcoming, as students seek to try, but to no avail, to achieve lightness against a crushingly intense assessment scheduled for the week of 2.22.
Our 8th graders are experiencing the same reality, but are doing so in an opposite manner. As they commence the study of World War I, they enter the domain of weight, crushing and brutalizing as it can be. 8th grade students are beginning to understand how the weight of nationalism, imperialism, industry, and competing notions of the good helped to create a setting where individuals were pinned underneath the weight of history and all that went with it. The battle between Eros and Thanatos played itself out in a war where the death toll went into the millions, little remain unresolved after its conclusion, and the seeds of a more menacing future appeared on the horizon "slouching towards Bethlehem, waiting to be born." Within such a weight driven conception, students will have to find their own voice of lightness in identifying with the voices of dissent such as Millay, Keller, and dos Passos. Perhaps, our own prospective scholars can find an air of lightness in the writings of Debs and Cummings, seeking to articulate a space where human freedom and all that it encompasses could present itself. They begin this journey on Monday, all the while understanding that the mantle of historical scholarship and personal voice that the great American thinkers like Zinn and Sallinger developed must now be carried on with their departures this week.
We are rapidly approaching the point in the year in both curriculum where character will be forged, identities created, and the notion of the Academic self will be revealed. As our students wrestle with the demons and angels of weight and lightness, we all will await to see which side will be victorious and to what extent new voices will be heard.
All best and happy hunting.
Mr. Kannan

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