This week’s guest post is penned by none other than THE Jorge Rodriguez. Jorge is the captain and creator of the Voxcast, a part of the Physedagogy Team, and a Spark superhero. More importantly, I consider Jorge to be a friend and mentor. He pushes my thinking and is constantly challenging my thought process. I read this and was amazed at how clearly there is a parallel between philosophy and our teaching journeys. I hope this encourages you to reflect as it did me. Enjoy.
Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” To me, the implication of this statement is we should embrace challenge in our life in order to become better. We should seek to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to find truth. If the chaos of challenge doesn’t kill us, it will make us stronger individuals; mentally, physically and spiritually. This is a profound idea. More than what I bargained for when I started learning more about his work. However, as I reflect on my 13 years as a physical education teacher, I think about my journey and it reminds me of the “metamorphosis of man” that Nietzsche talks about in his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
Nietzsche suggests that evolution does not happen by accident, we must aspire to be more than what we are. This metamorphosis has three stages, the spirit to the camel, the camel to the lion and the lion to the child. I believe that many teachers go through a similar change.
The spirit is the individual whose purpose is simply to get by. This could be the new teacher who struggles to deal with the complexities of the profession and seeks out a comfort zone. This could also be the seasoned teacher that has found that comfort zone and has lived in it for years. The spirit represents the passive individual that takes little risk and generally tries to stay out of the spotlight. This teacher might do just enough to get by, reluctant to ruffle any feathers because of the fear of discomfort. If we are to grow out of this stage as teachers, we must have the courage to rise to the challenges of our profession. We must equip ourselves with the power of knowledge by understanding the system we work in and embracing the challenges it offers.
The first transformation is from the spirit to the camel. The camel is a beast of burden. This teacher is happy to take on the weight of responsibility placed upon them by the system. This teacher embraces the challenge and is willing to work within the confines of the school system. This teacher has a strong sense of duty and is eager to show his/her worth by working hard. I see this teacher as someone that is married to the standards and grade level outcomes. In a traditional school system, this teacher can be a highly effective teacher. He/she works hard, teaches the content and does not challenge the system. In many ways, this is highly desirable in a traditional setting.
The second transformation is from a camel to a lion. This transformation requires self-reflection and questioning of the status quo. Where the camel is comfortable working within the system, the lion seeks freedom above all things. This teacher knows the standards well but rejects the idea of being limited by them. This teacher seeks liberation from external influences that are designed to bring value or worth. This teacher seeks intrinsic motivation for themselves and their students. Teacher appraisal systems and student grades are not enough. Although the lion seeks liberation, the system is all this teacher knows and will tend to revert back to what is known. The challenge for the lion is creating from emptiness.
The last transformation is from the lion to the child. The child enters into a new beginning absent of the past. A traditional school system may not allow for this type of transformation. The child approaches the world uninterested in external answers or approval. This teacher would primarily focus on play and the joy of learning for the sake of learning. Although the child may not be easily attained, it can be something to aspire to.
In contrast, Zarathustra warns us of the last man. The last man is seeking safety above all and lives to consume rather than create. Zarathustra says, “One must still have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star.” The last man believes that order is the only way and therefore seeks standardization. In education, this is the unbalanced relationship with standardized testing. This is the insistence in measuring all students in the same way and measuring success with compliance. This is hierarchical control under the guise of safety, where teachers and students learn not to take risks. This potential lives in all of us. To counter this, we should live in a way that promotes self transformation through challenge.
Nietzsche suggests that evolution is not guided by accident or time, it is guided by aspiration and a will to become better. We will not evolve as individuals if we do not aspire to be better. Time alone does not make us wise. Instead, we should aspire to be more. We should aspire to see the world as a child, new and full of hope.
Response to this blog:
The stage of the spirit reminds me a lot of when I first started teaching and when my children were very young. ‘The spirit is the individual whose purpose is simply to get by.” Sometimes getting by is all we can muster. We battle family concerns, personal issues, economic forces, political winds and a variety of other influential occurrences.
For me, the change from the Spirit to the Camel is learning how the system works.” This teacher is happy to take on the weight of responsibility placed upon them by the system.” I volunteered for various committees, starting holding pd, and ventured outside of Physical Education.
I turned from the Camel to the Lion once I realized the system was broken. “This transformation requires self-reflection and questioning of the status quo.” Our students were only valued as test scores and school was not enjoyable for them. My classes were run top down. My students were not finding the joy in movement because I was the only one creating the scenarios for them to move.
My last metamorphosis is the one that is occurring for me right now. I am currently moving from the Lion to the Child. “The child approaches the world uninterested in external answers or approval.” I am not looking for approval from anyone outside of my students. My evaluations carry little weight other than job security. The real feedback comes from my students. They are enjoying class more. This has created much better learning situations where everyone’s voice is valued.
I personally feel that SHAPE America is the Last Man in this philosophical identification. “The last man believes that order is the only way and therefore seeks standardization.” Our national organization is moving towards more standards, more testing, and a more nationalistic approach to teaching. It is our job to remind our state and national organizations that you work for us. We need more individual resources that will impact our lessons not more standardization of content. Create units for us that are outside of the traditional North American Eurocentric sports garbage we have been doing for years. Incorporate biking standards, skiiing standards, and swimming standards. No one is under the illusion that our students will master all of the standards that are out there. Create a boatload so we can a la carte them and create a personalized Quality Physical Education program.
Questions via Jorge Rodriguez:
- Nietzsche suggest that we should aspire to become more. What should education aspire to do?
- What role does a HPE teacher have this evolution?
- Where do you see yourself as a teacher in the stages of metamorphosis?
- What is needed to help you evolve to the next stage?
- What would have to change in order to teach full of hope and joy, as a child?