Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Mountains

The dots continue to connect in my life. I've been working on a children's story for the past month and that's led me to renew my interest in children's literature. I've gone through a set of books by Blue Balliet that are set in the Laboratory Schools in Chicago. That school was founded by John Dewey, one of the greatest influences in public education to date. He also happened to found The New School where I am considering the PhD program in Public and Urban Policy. His approach to education resonates so deeply with me and I've been doing a lot of independent research on him.

Today I came across a book entitled John Dewey and the Philosophy and Practice of Hope. In it there is a curriculum for teaching a class on hope which would make an excellent addition to my curriculum for Citizen Schools. It is taught at UNC Charlotte by Stephen Fishman, one of the book's authors along with Lucille McCarthy. John Dewey has a lot to say about the subject of hope and many students took Professor Fishman's class for the same reason I'm writing a year-long series about hope on this blog - to feel more hopeful.

As it turns out, Dewey's whole philosophy about life was based on hope. Max Otto, philosopher and close friend of Dewey, recounted John Dewey's philosophy of hope as illustrated in a dialogue he had with a student:

Student: What's the good of [philosophy]?

Dewey: The good of it is that you climb mountains.

Student: And what's the use of doing that?

Dewey: You see other mountains to climb.

Today, someone said to me that if she could just accomplish this one thing she wanted to do that would be a victory. She could check that off her list; with that victory she would "win". This sounded so odd to me. Isn't the point of a victory to let you do even greater things down the line, similar to the mountains that Dewey talked about with his students.

At a Darden alumni reception tonight, I was reminded that this is the ultimate goal of education, too. We get an education not for the accomplishment we get with the degree, but rather because of the doors that it opens, because climbing that mountain of books and papers and exams allows us to see and climb other mountains. Mountains we never knew existed. And it gives us the confidence to make our way in the world.

A victory, a diploma, a "win" isn't an ending at all - it's always a gateway to something bigger. This is reason enough to always keep going, to always keep moving forward. Obstacles become just challenges. Hard times become opportunities for learning and strength and growth. Disappointments and loss help us realize what's really important in our lives. Those mountains are more than just things to climb and accomplish. They are our very reason for living.

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