I spend a great deal of time with two kinds of people: teachers and students. In some ways, these two groups are at opposite ends of the continuum of learning. Sure, teachers and students co-create and share the environment of learning; but what I hear from each group is different. Students (of all ages) talk about the many ways in which the learning environment fails to meet their needs. Teachers, on the other hand, tend to talk more about how to preserve and nurture that learning environment. In this sense, both groups are working toward the same goal: to make the learning environment useful and purposeful. But I find that they have radically different notions about how to accomplish this goal. Students want to deconstruct and rebuild the system; teachers want to preserve and enhance it. Students want more autonomy and service from teachers and institutions; teachers want more commitment and loyalty from students. Students demand new technologies; teachers are (or they tend to be) anxious and suspicious about new technologies. Students yearn for more intensity and risk in their learning; teachers seek more safety and structure. Sometimes I wonder if these various impulses and aims are inherently complementary or fundamentally contradictory.
For many parents, the cultures of technology — gaming, social media, texting — seem foreign, strange, and uninviting. At the same time, our kids have transferred much of their interpersonal developmental into the online world, where parents don’t see what’s happening. For the first time in the history of humanity, young people are growing up in a world their parents don’t understand. In turn, those parents — whose fundamental job is to guide their kids through the labyrinth of childhood and adolescence — have themselves been drawn into a world of digital distraction: smart phones, television recording devices, DVD players in the car. The cultures of technology have created their own gravity, and we are all pulled inexorably toward it.
South of the riverbend, twenty minutes along a trail fringed with pink flowers of hardhack and gangly stalks of sweet gale, a black spruce that I call the World Tree stands against a spring sky. Here, within earshot of the encroaching highways of suburban Vancouver, a broad bole streaked with umber meanders skyward. High up, an eagle rides a crest of sea air, glances down, then spirals away. Through a lattice of dark branches restless with vigor, nomadic flecks of blue sweep toward the horizon.
The word mentor is Greek in origin. It refers to a character in The Odyssey, a friend of Odysseus who offers counsel to his son during the father’s long absence upon the sea. But the sage Mentor is actually Athena in disguise, the goddess of war and wisdom who guides and sustains Odysseus through his journey. A mentor, therefore, is a wisdom guide.
That horizon stretches out. You know the one. It lies on the far side of a vast, unknowable plain punctuated by our dreams and fears and fantasies of what might be. The horizon retreats as we tread upon that plain, as we encounter the figures and actions of our passage. We watch the horizon, we wonder about it, we follow our footsteps along an indistinct line that meanders in that direction. Call this line destiny, or fate, or the labyrinth, or whatever you like. It is the path that we take.