Dr. Robert Farrar stands at the front of the corner-windowed third-floor classroom.
We are waiting for the official class time. Only then will he begin today’s talk about educational history.
I look out the window at my 2003 Honda Odyssey parked a few car lengths up, off of Ventura boulevard. I’m spending a fortune to get my master’s degree at the Encino branch of Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education. But I’m too cheap to pony up the $50 per semester to park in the lot. My legs work just fine.
“Doc,” I say, turning in his direction, “You ready for a question?”
Yesterday, at the vending machines, Joannah, one of my recently out-of-college classmates, told me she doesn’t understand how I “just speak to professors, like normal.”
Professor Farrar’s right hand pinches at the underside of his left arm, pulling his blazer and monogrammed shirt cuff up so as to check the time on his watch. “Rabbi and Mister Brian Zachary Mayer, yes, yes I am. Ask.”
“Doc, a history of education question.”
“Fair enough Upon what is your consciousness currently cogitating?”
“Well, in the history of teachers and teaching, has there ever been a time in which teachers have thought, ‘*These students are really so much better behaved than past years?’*”
Doc makes a chorus of sounds like someone who has eaten something delicious — Mmmm. Mmmm. Mmm. Mm. Mmmmm!
I add, “Or, do you know that anyone has ever said, ‘The school budget is amazing this year‘—has either ever been said?”
He begins to shake his head as though in disbelief.
“Mister the Rabbi, you are hilarious.”
“Well, Mister the Professor? What say you? Has it happened?”
I preface introducing the following Shantideva quote with: ‘This is going to sound like the stupidest thing you’ve heard me teach, but bear with it. It’s quite profound.’
Why? Why do I do this preface? Because I’ve found letting people know what to expect puts them at ease, and helps them to process.
Now that you’ve gotten the preface and explanation, here what the eighth-century Indian monk said:
- Fire is hot.
- The sky sometimes has clouds.
Seemingly dumb quote, right? Just like I said it would be.
(Which is my point here: it’s nice to know what to expect.)
Now, let me help reveal the deeper meaning of the quote by asking:
- Would you argue with fire for being hot?
- Would you argue with the sky for sometimes having clouds?
Of course not. Why? Why not? Because it is the nature of fire to be hot. Because it is in the nature of the sky to sometimes have clouds.
That’s how they are: Fire is hot, and the sky sometimes has clouds.
So then why do we act surprised when someone is rude to us?
Do we not know it is in the nature of people to be rude?
From that day in Doc Farrar’s class, knowing work in schools would always feel impossible, my day was easier.
Why was I feeling like teaching has always been harder this year than it was in some mythical past?
Because it is in the nature of teaching to feel behind and overworked.
Climate change is real.
The world is ending.
Humanity is doomed.
Which is a bit stressful.
(As if you hadn’t noticed!)
But here is something in which I take comfort.
It’s always like this.
Not always, but often-always.
The world has been about to end since recorded time began. And, it’s such a popular idea that we even have a word for its study: eschatological—relating to the end of time. Risks to all life as we know it have been astronomical, biological, ecological, sociological, technological, and religious. (I spent some time looking at the Wikipedia entry for Predicted_apocalyptic_events.)
So, take a breath.
Science tells us the predicted end-time events are set to occur within the lifetime of the person making the prediction because we project our own finitude upon the world; our egos unwilling or unable to grasp that life will continue without us.
We can read and be amused by fourth-century prophecies, knowing they did not come true. Similarly, Jim Jones’s 1967 prediction, The Jehovah’s Witnesses articles claiming the end in 1975, and Pat Robertson’s choice of 1982—all feel somewhat quaint. Because we, in 2021, know they did not come to pass.
Of course, this one that we are facing seems (and is) more real as the past ones have all been proven to be misguided.
We don’t know that about the future.
I’m not saying that we oughtn’t take actionable steps towards reducing our carbon footprint. We should. Jane and I are replacing our gas furnace, changing out leaky windows, recycling, composting, and doing laundry almost exclusively in cold. And you should, too.
Just like teaching has always been harder this year than the past, the world has always been ending.
It’s good to know what we can expect.