04 September 2011

Broom Cupboards and Ballrooms

I've been thinking a lot this week about an article by Hugh Nibley called "Goods of First and Second Intent." It was from an address given to a group of retired teachers more than twenty years ago, but it is still true. The article discusses the different desires that we can have - goods of first intent that are what make life worth living and you can never get enough of, and goods of second intent that are good for you, but only if you use them to obtain goods of first intent. If they are not used properly, you can become addicted and harmed by them. (Money, for example, is a good of second intent.)

At one point in the article, Nibley points out that most people spend far too much of their time pursuing goods of second intent and neglect the things of eternity - he refers to Arthur Clarke's description of a man who had inherited a magnificent palace but instead preferred to spend all of his time in a broom cupboard.

I've been thinking about this because of an experience I had this week with a parent who, to save you all the frustrating and ridiculous details, pulled her child from my class because I was being too effective. I hold an optional mentoring/study session once a week for students in this class that her son would not be able to attend because of other commitments. After a very interesting conversation the result was pulling the child from the class entirely because she didn't want the child to miss a single breath of what went on in class. (I believe the phrase "I am having difficulty with this 'students are to be responsible' concept" was used.)

This is such a typical attitude in certain circles of my community. They imagine things they way they think it should be, and then one thing shifts or changes or moves the cheese, and the solution is not to adapt, but to throw out everything. The baby, the bathwater, the bathroom, the whole house or neighborhood if necessary - but it all goes.

It baffled me. It still baffles me. It baffles me that this woman would, presumably, have been happier of the study period was a waste of everyone's time instead of a valuable asset. It baffles me that her solution to missing part is to miss all, when her child - as far as I've been able to tell - would be perfectly capable in this class with or without the extra reminders on assignments. It reminds me of an experience I had last year when a student was pulled from my class in the first few weeks of school because the student was stressed about doing well - but mostly because the parent just wanted the kid at home more often. (The kid wanted to stay in class, and would have done well.)

These examples are of parents - who should be the greatest advocates of their children learning and growing in independence and skill - secluding their children away into broom cupboards by force. That makes me feel sick enough as it is. But how often do the rest of us voluntarily turn away from new opportunities or places for growth and stay in symbolic broom cupboards for the rest of our lives? Seems downright claustrophobic to me. There is a world of truth and light out there just waiting to be explored, and I, for one, look better and feel better in a ball gown than I do in rags.

No comments: