Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

… Or so it seemed this week as I encountered dire predictions around every corner. December 21, 2012 maybe didn’t bring the Mayan Apocalypse that so many had hyped, but it did bring a much needed break in the school calendar for a nation weary of tragedy. We all surely stumbled with heavy hearts into the holiday season this year.

Has there ever been a week more trying to work in education than this one? I began the very first week of my teaching career with 9/11, yet going in to school this past Monday seemed more difficult than even that in many ways. After the events of December 14th in Newtown, Connecticut, it was little surprise to find that the most important part of my week as an administrator was to be visible and present at the carline in the morning. More than ever, parents dropping off their children to school needed to see a reassuring presence outside welcoming everyone into the building. A simple smile and wave without a doubt accomplished more than any paper I pushed this week.

121217073604-01-newtown-reax-1217-horizontal-galleryLike so many in the field of education, for me it has been a week of sober reflection juxtaposed with the need to maintain routine. Holiday traditions seemed more important than ever; so many times this week I found people anxiously looking my way – hoping to find permission to celebrate the season in a smile from me. The struggle to express grief in a season of joy is very real and truly heart-rending.

Looking for Answers

Perhaps it’s due to the winter solstice and the switch from shortened days to lengthening amount of light, but so much of the symbolism of the season is fraught with visual imagery. And I was struck this week at how important it was just to see and be seen when you are an instructional leader. Teachers and students needed to see me walking the halls just as parents needed to see me outside waving my hand. I have never been so manifestly conscious of the effect of my mere presence than I have during the course of this week.

As I finally tried to relax on Friday afternoon, I happened to come across the hype of the Mayan calendar on television. That’s when it struck me. The narrator touched on the actual definition of the word “apocalypse.”

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Translated from Ancient Greek ἀποκάλυψις (apocálypsis) the term literally means “uncovering or lifting of the veil” – referring to a revelation or disclosure of knowledge. It doesn’t mean a thing about the end of the world!

Rather than Armageddon, an “apocalyptic vision” means being able to see through the present to the transition that is on the horizon. Seeing a future hidden by the minutiae of the present is not an easy task, yet it is the one expected of those who would lead our schools. This is especially true in an age dominated by sensationalism portrayed as fact. (Believe me, I got a lot of free advice this week!)

Every time we encounter another of these tragedies, it seems we lose another piece of our national innocence. Hope seems to become a commodity that we can no longer afford when we are confronted with the starkness of such senseless violence. But schools are no place for cynics – rather, they must be temples of hope that have faith in the future. The very act of teaching is one of hope that stems from a belief that we can affect change in the minds of the next generation.

Can that possibly be the lesson of this Christmas season? Even in a society of many faiths, might we dare to pull together as we pivot from the tragedy of death to the time of the year celebrating new birth and new light? Can we make our children the central focus of our culture? Can we learn from what Charles Dickens expressed in my favorite Christmas quote of all time?

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But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round–apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that–as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~ Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

As communities like Newtown provide support for one another in the aftermath of violence, educators everywhere need to step up and provide continued voice to the true spirit of the season – that we are ultimately all in this together. If we can do this, and I believe we can and must, then we will truly mark a turning point – not only in our educational system, but in our entire society.

Perhaps the Mayans were right after all – if as Winston Churchill said, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

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God bless us, every one!

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The Dickensian Element

The literary world celebrated the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens this week to much fanfare.  But what would Mr. Dickens think if he were still with us today?

My contention is that Dickens would be very active in the public sphere.  It was always a trademark of his during his lifetime.  Dickens was well-known for engagement with his readership, even going so far as to alter episodes of his serial manuscripts based on audience feedback.  He traveled to promote his work as well, and conducted dramatic readings of his work that paved the way for the literary book tour.  The field of literary scholarship would soon grow as well as public conversations about his works ensued.

For all of his contributions to the fields of literary business, literary scholarship, and the development of the novel itself as an art form, Dickens stands head and shoulders above other studied authors.  Yet these are not even among his most lasting accomplishments.  Charles Dickens changed the culture of Western society in unexpected ways.  His A Christmas Carol is credited with prompting the evolution of that holiday into the public consciousness.  Meanwhile, his countless works chronicling the poverty and social iniquity present in Victorian society helped to evolve the public conscience as well.

With his identity as an author so wrapped up in the age which he lived, can Dickens still be considered relevant today?  Of course, is the straightforward answer to an obviously leading question.  I would argue that a writer captivated by the social effects of the Industrial Revolution would be equally enamored of capturing the spirit of the Digital Age.  He would clearly relish new ways of interacting with his audience such as e-readers and iBooks.  The idea of putting more text in the hands of more readers would be viewed by Dickens as a tremendous positive for society.  I’m certain that Dickens would be on sites like Twitter and Facebook, and that he would use these social media platforms to garner feedback from his audiences.  I have no doubt that were Dickens alive today, he would quickly alert readers through Foursquare that he was at the local bookstore signing copies of the long-awaited conclusion to The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  [He might even confirm to anxious readers that, yes, it was Jasper all along!]

Yet I believe that the “Inimitable” Charles Dickens would have plenty of social criticism to dispense to that dynamic audience.  Dickens, who grew up in poverty, would have grave concerns about the Digital Divide present in today’s Western culture.  The idea that the ever-widening gap between rich and poor enables some schools to have 1:1 classrooms and others scrape by with chalk and outdated textbooks would be anathema to Dickens.

I can see in my mind’s eye a new 2012 novel from Mr. Dickens:  A young man grows up at the turn of the century (the 21st) and goes through his schooling at a poor urban school.  He and his street urchin friends would provide indirect commentary from the author on a society that has turned education into a test-score factory.  Perhaps this young man would have an unexpected turn of fortune that would land him in the midst of wealthy society.  Just as deftly, Dickens would then skewer the positions of those who argue that technology would be the salvation of these issues.  Reimagined characters like Superintendent M’Choakumchild and Associate Superintendent Thomas Gradgrind [they’ve been promoted since their appearances in Hard Times] would thrive in today’s NCLB environment!  Then Dickens would make his emotional appeal… Unless the stratification of society is made more flexible – and unless the disadvantaged from birth are provided more opportunities to become upwardly mobile – we remain a “tale of two classes.”

We sure could use a little of that Dickensian element today… Happy birthday, Chuck.

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