Wednesday, June 3, 2015


When I was a kid, I had this philosophical problem with the idea of the teaching profession.

My rival in elementary school, Carrie Cofer, announced to our delighted teacher that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. Being both jealous of the teacher's praise and somewhat literal-minded, I thought about the logical implications of what could happen if everyone grew up to become a teacher. It seemed to me that teachers did not have any inherent purpose, other than to continue the system of producing people who could one day be teachers. I thought, surely there must be some important thing people should actually DO, not just teach other people to do. So it was unclear to me what teachers' purpose actually was, and I determined it was illogical to become a teacher.

Later, when I became a teacher, I encountered this term over and over and over again: "data-driven."

Just take a moment to consider that term. Form an image in your mind. Really delve into what that term means. Driven by data.

The word "drive" implies that you are commanding something to go in a particular direction. Usually, you drive a living thing to take you somewhere: You drive a car because people once drove horses to pull their carriages. You are forcing something to do as you command. In contrast, you ride a bike: you are participating as much as the bike is.

Let's continue. In the course of conversation, my husband and I recently discovered that many "dr" words have to do with manipulating objects. You drape fabric. You drop an item. You draw (pull) things out of a draw-er.  Drip. Drain. Drag. Drench. Dress (put clothing onto), dribble, drill, drum, dry, I would even argue that to drawl is to pull words slowly, as if they were objects.

The person that does these things is generally a human being who is manipulating an object or an animal. It's really a beautiful trick, to think of words this way, so that a mere combination of two sounds (juh, ruh)  conveys a concept (human manipulating object). *

So then, what does it mean for a human to be "driven"? Someone or something is cracking a whip behind us, compelling us to do something or move in a direction we would not choose on our own?

But humans are not objects or animals. Only another human can drive us and to force a human to do something he or she would not otherwise do is wrong. As a society we accept this overtly only when otherwise the person would be a danger to himself or others, such as the mentally ill, or among those who have committed a crime.

So why accept this language, "driven"? Who or what is driving? Towards where?

Some people say they are driven by God or by truth. Still, they are deciding what to be driven by, and are ultimately responsible for their choices. They are not "driven" in the true sense, of being manipulated like an object by God or by truth. Human beings make choices because we have free will, and we cannot abrogate responsibility for those choices, no matter what or who we claim was really responsible.

Did you know you should not reward a child for doing an activity that you want him to really enjoy?
If you give a child a reward when he reads a book, he will likely lose interest in reading once you wean him off of the reward system. He may become "driven" by the reward, and not by any inherent joy to be found in the activity. Similarly, I am baffled by ads that call for sales people who "MUST BE MONEY-DRIVEN." What are you going to do with the money? Just get a bunch of it and that's the purpose of your existence?

You also encounter this concept when you hear about overwhelmed parents. I am not a parent yet myself, but when I am, I don't think it would be right to let the child become my reason for living. Then what will be the child's reason for living? The hypothetical future grandchild? Life must be meaningful and enjoyable to us right now, not at some future time when we have achieved our goals.

Well, to come back to my decision to become a teacher, I discovered there was a reason for this profession. The purpose is not, as I thought then, to create future good citizens. The purpose is to enjoy learning, and to introduce others to a future that might be filled with the joy of learning.

The purpose is certainly not to train children (train is similar to the "dr" words!) to score highly on standardized tests, so that they can get into good colleges that let them get jobs which pay a lot of money. But that's a topic for another day.

*You encounter this type of etymology in other languages, like Arabic, where three consonants always signify a particular concept, and the vowels are changed to mean different versions or manipulations of the base concept. It was delightful to find that the same thing exists in English (another example we found: sn often connotes things having to do with the nose: snore, snarl, sniff, sneer).

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