Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Psychic Entropy and Educational Pornography

In his seminal book, Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains the state of mind called psychic entropy by relating a story of a assembly line worker who ends up in a very frustrating and extreme position. This particular worker had a tire on his car that was low on air and he didn't have the money to replace it. He continued to fill it up in the morning before work and in the evening when he drove home as he anticipated his next income check. He finally lost control of things at work and snapped at the other employees. "All through the day he worried: 'Will I make it home tonight? How will I get to work tomorrow morning?' These questions kept intruding in his mind, disrupting concentration on his work and throwing a pall on his moods."

This man, Csikszentmihalyi continues, "is a good example of what happens when the internal order of the self is disrupted. The basic pattern is always the same: some information that conflicts with an individual's goals appears in consciousness. Depending on how central that goal is to the self and on how severe the threat to it is, some amount of attention will have to be mobilized to eliminate the danger, leaving less attention free to deal with other matters . . . prolonged experience of this kind can weaken the self to the point that it is no longer able to invest attention and pursue its goals"(p.37).

After reading this a few days ago, I experienced a short-lived moment of euphoria that someone had actually put into writing the exact feeling I have been experiencing for the last four months. I have always struggled to make decisions, especially when it comes to whether my choices directly could effect the feelings and opinions of others. As a new father (and fairly recently married man), a new professional, a recent graduate, and a new citizen of Oklahoma I am only now realizing the full impact of balancing all these roles and expectations. The result is near complete paralysis.

Perhaps one of the biggest contributors to my feelings of psychic entropy is my own unrealistic perception of what successful teaching looks like. Until recently I think that deep down I thought I could be that teacher who jumps on the desk and yells Carpe Diem! and captures the imagination of my young and eager students on a daily - no hourly - basis. In short, until this point it is likely I have been under the influence of educational pornography.

In a short and illuminating post by +Bryce Bunting the idea of educational pornography is explained more fully. Films like Stand and Deliver, or Freedom Writers often captivate and inspire audiences, but don't necessarily paint a realistic idea of what teachers can and should be doing in the classroom.
The reality is that very few teachers have the time, energy, or disposition to approach teaching in the super-human way that is subtly advocated for in these kinds of films. And, when teachers are made to feel that they should all be like Ron Clark (one of the new breed of "inspiring," "innovative," and superstar educators), frustration, hopelessness, and feelings of failure won't be far behind.
Don't get me wrong, the Ron Clarks of the world aren't imaginary. They are real and they are wonderful. However, it is clear that living a balanced and healthy life while maintaining this super teacher lifestyle is simply not sustainable for me or most people in general. 

So I will continue on my way, doing my best. What more can I do, then give my all within the boundaries my mental, physical, and spiritual health will allow? I hope to overcome my sense of psychic entropy and begin making some steps forward. 

"So much in life depends on our attitude. The way we choose to see things and respond to others makes all the difference. To do the best we can and then to choose to be happy about our circumstances, whatever they may be, can bring peace and contentment." 

1 comment:

  1. Really healthy thinking here G! Thanks for continuing your sharing here inspite of the tremendous pressures you're under. These are great quotes and thoughts and resolutions too!