Sunday, September 21, 2014

Beyond Boxes

As a teacher, I think a lot about school -- and not just the day-to-day routine of it, but the entire philosophy and structure of it. While I was still in my first years of teaching, I was simultaneously working on my graduate degree, and part of my course reading for one of my many (many) theory-focused classes was Althusser. There is a passage that still haunts me whenever I ask myself why we "do" school the way we do it. 
     What do children learn at school? They go varying distances in their studies, but at any rate they learn to read, to write and to add – i.e. a number of techniques, and a number of other things as well, including elements (which may be rudimentary or on the contrary thoroughgoing) of ‘scientific’ or ‘literary culture’, which are directly useful in the different jobs in production (one instruction for manual workers, another for technicians, a third for engineers, a final one for higher management, etc.). Thus they learn know-how.      
     But besides these techniques and knowledges, and in learning them, children at school also learn the ‘rules’ of good behaviour, i.e. the attitude that should be observed by every agent in the division of labour, according to the job he is ‘destined’ for: rules of morality, civic and professional conscience, which actually means rules of respect for the socio-technical division of labour and ultimately the rules of the order established by class domination....      
     To put this more scientifically, I shall say that the reproduction of labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order....
What, then, can be said about the power of the schoolteacher?

This question was foremost on my mind when I created my most recent Crate Paper layout. Faced with a post topic that challenged me to find inspiration in something that I encounter often in my daily life, I focused on the lockers that line the halls at the school where I teach.

These locked "boxes" brought to mind the routines and patterns of students, who, essentially, spend most their days moving from box to box -- cars and buses, lockers, classrooms, houses, bedrooms, even computer screens and the pages of planners.
I filled my page with boxes...
but then, in the journaling, as in my interactions with my students, I tried to move past the idea of "boxing", of the status quo:
They wake up in boxes, sit in traffic in boxes, head toward their locked boxes, and then enter their assigned ones. They spend their days in boxes, staring at boxes, but somewhere in the midst of the day, let me be the one who helps them see beyond boxes. Let's unlock, let's defy compartmentalization, let's open up to the world.

All those years ago, reading Althusser, I realized my role in something so much bigger than myself. Though the idea is bewildering and sometimes overwhelming, I do accept that change begins with me. If we can begin to see the world differently, then we can begin to make a difference.


  1. Oh my, such an eye opener. I never thought of it that way but yes, we spend so much time in our "boxes." Maybe that is why I love travel so much, getting to a new place that has no defined walls. As always your words inspire me as much as your art. Thank you.

  2. I always read your blog posts via Blog Lovin, and I don't often leave comments....but I did want to comment on this is so super and so profound. The journalling so absolutely true. I have also set out on a mission to see the world differently and have also realised that this change begins with me!!!! And yes, we can make a difference......!!!!!! Thanks for this reminder and a gorgeous page!!! ;-)

  3. As a teacher by trade who is now a SAHM, I totally love and appreciate this page! :)

  4. Thank you for your inspiration and insightful observations! Absolutely love your blog and the wisdom you impart....would have loved to have had you as a teacher many years ago.

  5. Thank you for this.

    Every morning I stand by my youngest son's bed and coax, boss, and even beg him to get up. Almost every morning he asks why he has to go to school. I've mostly simplified it to: because it's your work. But some days I tell him how very luck he is not just to have school, but to have the teachers he has now and has had in the past.

    Because at the end of the day when he shares a few nuggets with me, and on the days I talk with his teachers, I understand that there are teachers like you in his life. Teachers who do the work of teaching him both the things that come easily and the things that are tougher, teachers who know who he is and when he's shining and when he's tripping and about to fall down and perhaps even stay down. I imagine what they do for him and multiply that by the hundred+ students they see in one day, and I am grateful and in awe.

    I love this page as a portrait of what it is to be a teacher and what it is to be you.