When my youngest daughter was tiny she was given the surprise present of two goldfish, won, in traditional fashion, at a funfair, and presented to her in a polythene bag full of water. I was not best pleased, as starting an aquarium was not even in the recesses of my subconscious, plus we were over a hundred miles from home in a hot, rattly car and with a long journey ahead. We tried our best to transport them home safely, however, despite achieving this, they departed for the Great Fish Bowl in the Sky shortly after arriving. Despite the tragic demise of these first two offerings, or perhaps in a guilt-ridden attempt to compensate for it, we did try again later to keep fish, only this time we dug a pond for them, which may explain why, twelve years on, they are alive and kicking (= breeding). This is not quite the digression it may seem. When we bought each new fish, we were advised to rest the bag of water they came in gently on the surface of the pond and open it gradually, so that the cold water could reach the fish little by little, and they would not receive a fatal shock through being sloshed straight into an alien environment.
So it feels with our book and website. I found my personal copy in my hallway when I arrived home yesterday evening, and published our accompanying website early this morning. However, there is a part of me that still wants to keep them in a warm, confined space, where no other fish can come and investigate. I feel I still need to be at the water’s edge, holding firmly onto the plastic edge of my bag, and allowing cold water to seep slowly inside while the warm water – and the fish – gradually acclimatise to making the move into the wild. I do know from experience, however, that while there is a risk that the heron, or other pond dwellers might swoop down and eat them, releasing the fish is much more likely to help them grow. Our pale gold one, after years of living by the kitchen window, went to live in the Great Outdoors three years ago and doubled in size. In book and blog terms, I guess I am expressing the hope that while a intensive period of work of one kind has led them to be the shape and size they are today, I realise that they will now become very different beings. I am apprehensive, curious and excited to see what these might be.
castle window, Germany
The other day my sister sent me a link to an article about how work – and the ‘cult of productivity’ – have been allowed to become benchmarks of self definition in Western culture. You can find it here on Maria Popova’s thought provoking site, Brain Pickings. I’m sharing it here for a number of reasons – one of them being that if I include it here I stand a reasonable chance of finding it again myself. Plus it reminded me of how great things digital can be, when you get a single suggested reading in an email and can then follow it up, down and across a myriad paths through all kinds of new territories and ideas that you never would have followed before. AND – it got me thinking about various things on a personal and professional level.
The article, focussing on Anna Quindlen’s undelivered commencement address that subsequently became a book, addresses the central notion of how students need to ‘get a life’ – not in the derogatory way that we usually intend such a suggestion, but a kind of life worth living, rather than a scrabbling after status and success. You can argue that ‘a life worth living’ is a highly subjective and value-laden construct that will mean different things to different people. You can equally observe that aspiring to such a thing is an old favourite of religions, therapists, self help books, wise aunties and all sorts, however that does not make an element of truth in the exhortation of it go away. Furthermore, if your over-riding goal is to make stupendous amounts of money and succeed at the expense of your fellows, then this kind of thing will just look a bit wet.
One of her points is that Quindlen insists that we should never confuse life and work. And I am still wrestling inside my head with whether or not I agree, and whether or not I do, so I won’t go on about it. However, it got me thinking about how creative reflection can be about getting a life – because in our curricula the purpose of reflection is to make students perform better, see themselves and their work critically and clearly, and set their goals more effectively. It still feels quite instrumental when described in those terms but students who reflect earnestly and honestly do move into the realms of personal values, motivations and drivers in quite profound ways. They may be doing so even when they don’t actually put it to paper too. So if you look at our Powerful Questions in Chapter 8, these are all about how we, as learners at any age, can get to the heart of what we are trying to achieve and understanding what compels us in our actions.