Monday 11 June 2012

emotional intelligence

How we remove life experiences from life
I've had a tough week.  Whenever I thought about a parent dying, I figured I would rationalize my way through it.  It turns out you can't do that at all.  The emotional journey I've been on has been as rich, complex and valuable as any rational mental exercise I've ever experienced, and it's only just begun.  Not having a rational solution has made me realize how much we're driven to that single mode of thinking.  No where is that more evident than in education.

Emotional intelligence is more than ignored, in fact, it's actively discouraged in school.  Curriculum and bureaucratic process do everything they can to take the personal, emotive elements out of education; the fact that we teach kids in factory-like rows demonstrates clearly the singular approach we take to learning.  Emotionality is an embarrassment when it happens; it certainly isn't a a form of human knowing we develop and nurture in modern education.  In fact, about the only time we do acknowledge emotional intelligence is when students don't demonstrate it, then we tend to suspend them.

I went in to school last week for a day in between trying to sort out cremations, services and Byzantine government requirements, not to mention storms of crying, because a senior academic class of mine where contacting me directly asking for clarification on year end assignments.  Empathy wasn't something that could (or should) have been expected.  If students aren't expected to develop it in school, we shouldn't be surprised if they don't display it.

The class I was most worried about, a primarily applied level media arts class, were fantastic.  They responded to my request for them to get their work done on their own and were empathetic to my situation.  Their response seemed genuine and we all felt better for the talk.  The academic classes sent condolences, but weren't, for the most part, willing to help me by helping themselves.  The game they've learned to play so well is between them and the system, and their teacher is just the delivery man who should be delivering, regardless of what might be happening to him.

If we defined learning effectiveness in terms of emotional intelligence, I wonder what schools would look like.  I suspect a number of teachers wouldn't be teaching.  I suspect a number of teachers who found themselves in trouble for being too passionate in school wouldn't be suspended for it.  I suspect a number of academically proficient students would find themselves disadvantaged.  I suspect student engagement wouldn't be a problem.

Unions are terrified of emotive responses in teachers, and actively discourage them because students aren't the only ones to lack a developed emotional intelligence.  We're developing a society that is emotionally bankrupt while entirely focusing on rationality.  We want students to engage, but be impartial with the process, then we complain when they don't seem to care enough.  We want learning to happen, but we don't want to let it be messy.  We want rational control over emotional engagement.

Boards come at it from the other side, driven by lawyers to reduce lawsuit visibility with their employees.  The whole affair is sat upon by societal expectations that press teachers to hold to professional standards (code for do everything at a distance) in all aspects of their lives, whether at work or not.  And ultimately to uphold that pinnacle of modern thought: rationalism.  If it can't be measured or calculated, it has no real value, and is dangerous.  Modern society won't create any Picasos or van Goghs or Shakespeares, we're too busy building data and temples to it, like Google and Facebook.

The whole thing leaves me feeling like, as a teacher or even just a human being, I'm left unable to express my grief, or even expect basic levels of dignity when I try to take time away to deal with my loss.  Between the needs of my students, some of those same students yelling at me while I sit grieving in my backyard trying to write a very difficult eulogy on a Friday night, and the calculations of grief in my absences, I feel exhausted by my professional obligations.  I can't even respond as a person when rudely interrupted.

All sides go on and on about the power differential, about how you as a teacher have all the power.  I don't see it.  I'm a minor paper pusher in a massive bureaucracy that seems intent on minimizing any professional latitude I once had, and diminishing any opportunity for emotional development with students in order to ensure a clinical and generalized success.  Students are distanced from their learning, I can't blame them for treating me like a thing, they are encouraged to see me as such.

Education has, like everything else, passed through industrialization and been changed into a Tayloresque production line.  What used to be a master/apprentice form of learning that was intensely personal and developed over years has turned into a bureaucratically driven production line focused on getting as many people through it in as antiseptic a manner as possible.

Every one of us will face death in our lives, yet everyone seems profoundly uncomfortable with it... like a room of children being expected to figure out calculus.  Shouldn't education be a key part of learning empathy?  And anger?  And grief?  And then learning how to best express it?  Emotion ignored doesn't disappear.