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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

the illusion of "working"

Our learning experiment began at our institution in a rather unintentionally high-profile way. So I am not surprised when I run into people on campus and they ask me how it is going.

It is going a lot like that Zen story about the farmer. The story is that a farmer's horse runs away. His neighbors say "Oh, bad luck." He says, "Maybe." The horse then returns, bringing with it another horse.  His neighbors say, "Oh, good luck!"  He says, "Maybe." The farmer's son decides to tame the new horse and in the course of doing so, he is thrown from the horse and breaks his leg. His neighbor's say, "Oh, bad luck!" He says, "Maybe." Then a war begins and all eligible young men are taken off to fight in the war. His son is not taken because he has a broken leg. The neighbors say, "Oh, good luck!"...anyway, it goes on like this,  what looks good can be bad and vice versa. Or perhaps it is false to separate into good and bad because everything is intimately related and thus neither good or bad (or both).

Anyway, I say this because I really can't tell how it is going.
A group of faculty have committed to working together to begin smaller experiments and initiate a full-scale launch (100 freshmen) in Winter 2012, but the progression of this is a little like the story of the farmer. Winter 2012 seems like an eternity is so far away that people don't feel a need to "do anything" now.  The faculty group is theoretically meeting every other week and plans to meet each week next quarter for 2 hours a week, but the current evidence doesn't suggest that any of this will happen. That is, a few of the 9 collaborators come, but 3 of the key people do not come to the meetings. I say this only as an observation, not as a judgement.  People, despite their commitment to something, simply are in a constant mode of triage, trying to think of which thing to do first (or equivalently, what can be "sacrificed").   This is the current state of the academy.

I can see that I am anxious that "nothing is happening."  I also see that I have an assumption the "we must be doing something."  But what? What should we be doing?  Why do I assume that in order for things to be going well, it should look like "busy-ness?"

The truth is that I've had initiatives that really "felt" like a lot was happening; nothing came of them, despite all the "feeling" of action. Is that feeling manufactured inside our heads?  Are our thoughts about what will happen in the future creating a kind of emotional expectation that is manufactured, rather than related to a factual reality?

I'm beginning to see what Roger says about is only our attention that creates the existence of things.  This will be a different entry.

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