One of my former colleagues – Glenn – once gave me a book called Edible Selby. It’s a sort of combination of a cookbook and travel book, but it’s really a book about the beauty and simplicity of finding and doing something that you love.
Ken Robinson refers to the intersection between what you love doing and what you are talented at as “The Element”. It is a special place in which work does not feel like work, in which there is a shift in your relationship with time. He doesn’t idealize this place as it, too, may be full of frustrations, mistakes, disasters, pain and heartache. But, he does argue, very convincingly, that the world would probably be a better place if more of us, many more of us, were working in our “Element” rather than in jobs we fell into through confusion, societal expectations or the desire to be wealthy.
This begs serious questions of schools, though. We do seem to be quite afraid of being places in which our students may have a chance of finding their “Element”. Indeed, we sometimes seem to perpetuate the trap of that endless pursuit, the “all wretch and no vomit” described by Alan Watts – “I’ll find out what I want to do when I leave school… I’ll find out what I want to do when I finish university… I’ll find out what I want to do after my gap year… I’ll find out what I want to do when I’ve earned enough money… I’ll find out what I want to do when I’ve retired”. And so on.
What if schools made it part of their mission to help students figure out their “Element”? What if it was OK for a student to know what they wanted to do by the time they were 16, and didn’t have to fail school to be able to do it? What if a student worked out that they don’t need to go to university to pursue their chosen path?
It seems as though a successful education is all about “keeping your options open”. But, what if it was also about finding focus, purpose… your “Element”. Why shouldn’t we be just as proud of helping students find what they want to do as we are of creating all-rounders who haven’t got a clue what they want to do?
Some people never find it, you know. And, in many cases, this may be because of their education.
Recently, I have caught myself boring myself while talking about education.
As a result, I have started to say less in an attempt to stop boring myself. However, I have also found that saying less bores me too.
These are worrying signs that I am on the predictable path many of those who opt for leadership roles in schools find themselves on… the path towards irreversible irrelevance. I am boring because I am not cutting edge anymore. I am not cutting edge anymore because I am not a teacher. Sure, I have my experiences from before, but those become stale and worn the more they are recounted and rehashed. Sure, I have the experiences I gain from spending time in classrooms, but those are gained from teaching vicariously and are not really my stories.
Perhaps boredom is the goal… a form of bliss. But, it’s not working for me.