Friday, September 30, 2016

Back to the Future II

In planning our Strategic Plan (see yesterday’s blog), it was described as people getting together in a “think tank.” Now let me be clear. Anyone who has read these blogs has a sense of how my mind works. Something triggers associations with a lifetime of philosophical ruminating and inspires a reflection on our use of language and looking past the words to the inherited stories we carry with us. I guess most of my life is about trying to change narratives that I consider limited or unimaginative or exclusive or hurtful or harmful or downright dangerous. This is on the lower end of the scale, but a good chance nonetheless to think deeper about the images we use.

Like the image of the “think tank.” A tank is not a good place to get imaginative work done and this is work that demands the full range of the imagination. A tank is a hard-shelled protected space, sometimes used for military purposes, sometimes to house sharks. The windows to the outside world are tiny slits. Thinking works best in contact with the living, flowing, breathing earth, not holed up in a canister of steel breathing stale air. In dreaming about our children’s future, a tank is not the best place.

And the assumption is that there will be thinking going on there. But what about dreaming, imagining, feeling, touching? The human brain works best when it connects to the heart and body and all the regions of its landscape.  I picture disembodied ideas thrown randomly out and bouncing off the walls, finally to be captured into some list that feels like a bunch of disconnected thoughts with no vital juices, no flowing blood or beating hearts. The images we choose to describe our thinking actually shapes that thinking.

Now consider an alternative. We have a seeds and pods theme at our school this year. Ah, there’s an image! A seed idea that drops from a plant that already exists in a real landscape (like a teacher in a school!), already has endured weather, competing plants, foraging animals. The blueprint for the plant is encoded in the seed and with just a little bit of light and water and other friendly natural conditions, something pops its head above ground and announces its presence. How does it do this?

Oats, peas, beans and barley grow, oats, peas, beans and barley grow.
Do you or I or anyone know, how oats, peas, beans and barley grow?

No, we don’t!! Science has its explanations, but at the bottom of it all, it’s pure mystery, magic, cause for wonder and astonishment. So I hope our strategic plan has space for some marvels, some surprises, some unanswered and ultimately unanswerable questions.

As seeds drop from plants, so with ideas. They work best if they come from a plant already in motion, fall into a soil prepared to receive it in an environment that offers the requisite light and water. We humans can help it along, care for it, water it, protect it a bit, but some of it is out of our hands. We just do what we can, let go, step back and trust that if it’s meant to flourish, it will. And it will grow at its own rate. We can’t hurry it or force it.

Now these are the kinds of ideas that will make sense for our Strategic plan. The seed. Instead of a tank to shelter them, the pod will do. And at the end, there will be beautiful and fragrant flowers, nutritious and tasty fruits. The Strategy of a good Strategic Plan is to toss the seeds homegrown from our own garden and see what bears fruit. Plan to water and prune and weed and watch grow, but that’s as far as a genuine plan can go. The rest is the mystery and magic of a will outside of the human sphere. The thing that makes sense for this particular time and place, nourished by our faith that if it’s meant to grow and feed our children, it will.

Finally, the seed, that carrier of the future, has encoded in it the entire evolutionary past of the plant. Another reason why we go back to the roots to reacher higher in the branches. 

PS For the record, the people on this committee are smart, imaginative and thinking people and I’m confident they will do good work. This is just to offer some thoughts that might help them along.

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