An unsharpened pencil represents September’s possibility

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Possibility might not have a definitive scent or color attributed to it, but September’s philosophy proposes that unsharpened, No. 2 Ticonderoga pencils best represent it.

September’s backpack teems with an endless supply of possibility. The backpack holds books, writing utensils, knowledge and tools for the development of deductive reasoning, for the powerful ability to think critically and clearly.

September’s backpack simply is the potential for passionate engagement in the ancient quest for understanding, the betterment of the self, the improvement of our communities and the search for wisdom.

As educator and philosopher Paulo Freire reminds us in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” “Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in the world, with the world and with each other.”

The ingenuity of September’s philosophy is that it is not limited to one doctrine, nor is it restricted by arbitrary linearity. It is giddy with diversity and potential. September contains an invitation to literacy, a request to join a society of learners, of students and teachers, of those who inquire.

September’s philosophy accommodates both Dr. Seuss and Kant, allows for both phonics and Aristotle and encourages both introspection and the sharing of opinions.

Its wonder comes from crisp, new backpacks and old, tattered, hand-me down backpacks. The pencils with which we explore might be freshly sharpened, chewed to the lead, found or purchased, but they all promise the gift of possibility. In our age of technology, the pencil is an underestimated instrument for revolution.

Understandably, most of us begin September’s journey with trepidation. There is great risk involved in embarking on a new adventure. There is an even greater sense of vulnerability in sending someone you love, someone for whom you are responsible, on his or her journey. Those who have to strap the rucksack on wee, small backs hope and pray that the environment to which they send the tiny scholars with the little hands that will hold the pencils of potential, will be a positive one. An environment that encourages the putting together of symbols that form letters, which grow into words that will eventually mark the glorious, empowering journey of beginning to read and write.

Likewise, accepting the responsibility to take the role of mentor or teacher is momentous. Excitedly, the guardians of these scholars watch the progress that signifies the rite of passage into communication through the written word, a veritable guaranteed entrance into an age-old dialogue. They are curates to the collection of possibility, respectfully participating in the initiation of their charges into the world of potential.

Ideally, as the educational process evolves, Freire would argue, the educator should continually re-form “his reflections in the reflection of the students. The students — no longer docile listeners — are now critical co-investigators in the dialogue with the teacher. The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and reconsiders his earlier considerations as the students express their own. The role of the problem-posing educator is to create, together with the students, the conditions under which knowledge at the level of the doxa is superseded by true knowledge, at the level of the logos.”

For the adolescent student, September’s backpack might hold writings that encourage a perspective change, challenging a limited and insular worldview. Perhaps this student will connect with a writer who argues that finding one’s own passion or listening to one’s own creative voice should always be of paramount importance. Perhaps they will discover this work just when they need to be reminded of its message the most, when peer pressure is suffocating the breath of the possible.

September’s seasoned student holds a backpack that might contain a book by Sartre or DeBeauvoir, igniting a passion for the study of existentialism. For the economically challenged collegiate student struggling to compete with his or her privileged classmates, September’s backpack might offer the first reading of Marx or Smith, motivating a courageous discussion about the limitations related to an individual’s socio-economic status or the concept of the free market. Plato’s “Republic” might be the impetus to encourage a student to evaluate rote societal expectations. September’s military student might discover a book of poetry in a battle-worn pack, giving words to experiences that were once isolating and seemingly inexpressible.

The potential epiphanies are minor, major, ordinary, extraordinary, inconsequential and life-changing. Reading and writing will do that to a person.

Of course, those of us bestowed with the honor of calling ourselves teachers might do well to consider these words of Freire, as we pack our own September bags with glasses that allow for clarity and recognition of student differences, as we pack stamina, creativity, patience and pencils of possibility. Freire suggests, “Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferrals of information. ... Education as the practice of freedom — as opposed to education as the practice of domination — denies that man is abstract, isolated, independent and unattached to the world; it also denies that the world exists as a reality apart from men. Authentic reflection considers neither abstract man nor the world without men, but men in their relations with the world.”

September graces us with the gift of possibility. May we all use this offering wisely, courageously and thoughtfully. After all, September’s pencil changes the world, one small word at a time.

Jennifer Lemma is a philosophy instructor at Walla Walla Community College. She can be reached at jennifer.baynelemma@wwcc.edu.

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