I applied to graduate school because I wanted answers. What I got were more questions. I shouldn’t be surprised though, because I remember having the same realization at the end of college. As an undergraduate I majored in History because I had so many questions about how the world came to be the way that it is. When college was over I remember thinking to myself, “I thought I’d be smarter by now.” Sometimes I fear that I’ll feel the same way after this year. What if I don’t know how to close the achievement gap? What if I don’t know how to build inclusive educational settings for students with disabilities? What if I don’t know how to perform a multiple regression analysis?! It’s a cause for pause – to ask myself what exactly I’m looking for. To ask myself why I really applied to graduate school?
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig observes, “It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life. Not the top.” (An apt metaphor in the field of education, where so many Herculean efforts can be described just as easily as Sisyphean.) I have to admit that I used to believe that just coming to Harvard meant reaching “the top” of the mountain. Implicit in that belief was that I understood all the problems, and that all I needed was to pick up some answers from these folks at Harvard so I could get back to fixing education. Like Rod Stewart said: “Look how wrong you can be.”
Every day I add nuance to my understanding of the problems and solutions in education. The people I’ve met at HGSE inspire, support and challenge me – and they expect the same in return. I can’t say that I’m always satisfied with this lack of definitive answers, but I’m beginning to see it less as a deficiency of answers and more as a deepening understanding of the problems. The problem, perhaps, is that my thinking was still constrained by the answer-seeking process that has served me well for my whole life in school. Until now. Typically in education teachers ask the questions and expect students to give the right answers. That way of thinking is turning out to be close to the top of my personal reform agenda. Why did I apply to graduate school? To get the right answers. What am I getting? The right questions.