philosophy, Teaching

Sod Sisyphus

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I used to have a teaspoon hanging from my classroom ceiling for many years. One winter morning a window was broken by a cricket ball and I placed a masking tape frame around the hole and beneath it a sign reading “where was this hole before the window broke?”

When students asked me why there was a teaspoon hanging from the ceiling I told them that if I had left the teaspoon on the floor no one would have seen it. This answer frustrated them immensely. Sometimes I would direct their attention to another sign I had stuck to the ceiling which read: ‘It takes longest to see what is closest to you.”
This usually generated very interesting discussion and debate that would sometimes find it’s way back to Fitzgerald, Shakespeare or the poem I was teaching at the time. Truthfully I was as eager to understand why the teaspoon hung from the ceiling as much as my students were. I was curious to see what else a simple teaspoon could become. Original ideas and discoveries have been birthed from looking at the ordinary with new eyes. I think it’s why time seems to pass quicker as we age, there seems to be less and less ‘newness’ in the world. Perhaps the world becomes, after a while, not what it is but what we expect it to be. Familiarization renders everything invisible and for us to regain our sight we must learn to see new things with old eyes. e.e.cummings explored this wonderfully in his poetry by ignoring the traditional rules of grammar in order to infuse old words with fresh vitality. During the late twentieth century we experienced the post-modern panic of a world where everything had been said and done. We briefly entered the mind of Sisyphus, that tragic figure of Greek mythology destined to roll a boulder up a hill and once it rolled down, back up again for eternity .His is a bleak world and especially grim when modern life can feel as though we are caught in a surreal nightmare of repetition. Life loses its brilliance, colours fade and days bleed into weeks into years. However, the world is not thus-we have made it so. Consider the possibility that when the world seems mundane, that you are observing it in a state of pause … temporarily frozen. Originality is not a characteristic of the world, it is not innate in any object; rather it is characteristic of thinking, a way of looking. I always encouraged my students not to look for answers because answers are easy; anyone can find an answer. Instead I urged them to find the right question. “But what’s the answer?” someone once shouted in frustration. “Excellent!” I said, “that’s better”.

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