Folded up compactly in a window seat on my way to parts yet unknown, I feel compelled to stop and reflect on the array of untranscribed inquiries effervescing in my brain over the past month before becoming engrossed in the discovery of a new destination.
No shortage of novel and noteworthy site visits, discoveries and experiences have transpired as I’ve bounded across the eastern U.S. and settled into my Texan base. There’s been history and heritage, urban adventures and natural beauty, moments of calm and moments of celebration. Amidst these aggregate travels though, my own lines of questioning and quandaries have been intersectional. I feel that to focus in on any one experience would be a sparse misrepresentation of the true wonderings that have pervaded my thinking and a shallow reflection of the true inquiry process toiling away in my brain during this time frame.
To inquire is to ask questions that organically arise in a situation and use them to find answers, conclusions and more questions. It’s a fundamental and interminable learning process. The reality of my chosen situation- this year away from work spent delving into the possibilities of constructing a purposeful and useful life- is that every adventure, new experience and new place that I go ultimately leads to umpteen queries vectoring inwards rather than out to the surrounding world. Questions whose answers are formative to my identify. Questions whose answers reverberate throughout and refocus my worldview. Questions that, contrary to my generation’s propensity to air our unfiltered (or at least unabashed) opinions and activities for the world to see, I prefer to ponder internally.
While working through these questions may be deeply personal, I imagine the questions themselves, are not. They’re questions about identity, relationships and priorities- cornerstones of the foundation that each of us establish to construct our lives. What do I hope to accomplish in the foreseeable future? What steps need I take to achieve these goals? What role do different places and cultures really play in realizing my endeavors and what people do I want to surround myself with along the way?
These are questions with which, I believe, all human beings have a right to grapple. We are entitled to an awareness of our place, person and relationships so that we can make informed decisions that determine the course of our lives- to develop our capabilities to be free and act freely.
When we deprive people of the security, resources or freedom to make decisions, we deprive them of their autonomy.
When we deprive people of the security, resources or freedom to gain knowledge, we deprive them of their ability to understand their decisions and thereby take ownership in constructing their personal narrative and identity.
Yet, even with apparent access to all of these things, these questions remain foreboding for many people like myself.
I consider myself a big picture person. I crave abstract, amorphous ideas. I look for universal truths. I find joy and satisfaction in recognizing the undulating ripples of trends and patterns across space and time. It’s part of why I teach History and Geography; these two disciplines focus on taking universal concepts and discerning their application to different physical and chronological points on the plane of human existence. These concepts give the impression- illusory or actual- of a the gestalt of our world and the complex fibers that weave it all together.
Yet, when it when comes to observation and decision making in my own life, I’ve developed a remarkable micro view. My first instinct is to think of the transient , to tackle one problem at a time, to view life as a series of stages through which I must progress.
The reassuring reality is that such delineations are superficial. The tougher reality is retraining one’s brain to consciously think of micro decisions as challenges and opportunities to achieving larger life objectives. Not to mention making decisions about what these objectives should be.
I often wonder, should be training students in school to use their their learning as a tool for self-actualization and not for self-development? We teach critical analysis and evaluation, we ask them to make and justify judgements about the world with reasoned arguments, we encourage them to inquire to depend their knowledge and build a personal love of learning. We aspire to equip them with the tools the need for success and tackle he challenges before them. But, do we set them up with habits of mind to think about the “big picture” objectives for their lives?
Our conversations and scaffolding for helping them determine a unique and fulfilling definition of personal success in formal education institutions are often limited. By asserting a shared vision for success through stream-lined public education, are we not risking the subjugation of each learners’ chance at self-actualization in favor of recognizable progress? On a more structural level, are we not also homogenizing the skills, ambitions and knowledge of our future work force thereby increasing competition and lessening the available of this aforementioned brand of success?
Such is the unrelenting procession of inquiry rumbling through my brain over the course of a seven hour flight. Though not delving into the personal, it perhaps yields a basis of comparison for the nature of my introspective examination.
Sitting now on the second leg of my flight, from Lima to Cusco, folded up slightly less compactly in a new window seat and gazing at the growing mountains in the distance, I find myself wondering what trains of inquiry this adventure will illicit and if my “big questions” of the past month will be subsumed by new experiences or the other way around.