The ancient Greeks loved their tragedies. The complexities and misbehaviors of humans both fascinated and perplexed our Greek cousins just as much as we are today. Much like current fascinations, the troubles we get ourselves into are more easily understood than the ways that there are to remedy these extremely complicated issues of humanity. Think about it; the themes and issues explored thousands of years ago are centrally the same issues we are dealing with today. There are no simple solutions to life’s most difficult struggles.
The Greeks did attempt to propose a literary solution. Though our modern sensibilities find their solution rather unfulfilling, the device of deus ex machina, literally translates to mean “god of the machine”. For the Greeks, it was a constructed scaffold or crane, where at the greatest point of despair for the main character, an unknown figure would descend from above, usually attached to the crane or scaffold, to save the day.
Today, these types of contrived resolutions make us feel that we had been duped, that the characters on stage, on film or on paper couldn’t work out their own answers. That the writer had written him/her self into a corner, so to speak. But, I do believe that the Greeks tapped into a primal yearning that helps reveal some of our humanity. As a species, and maybe even to a fault, we are optimistic creatures. We think that nothing is irreversible. That anything is salvageable. That our actions do not carry long term consequences. The concept of deus ex machina allows for hope until the bitter end. Even when the “players” have exhausted all of their options, we believe that there is always one, last hope.
You might be asking yourself what does all of this have to do with teaching and learning. In my conversations with teachers and students all across the country, the issues that plague our systems always either have one of two responses on how to address them:
1. Not my problem.
2. Someone else will figure it out.
I guess those two are closely related, but seem to be rather endemic across a wide spectrum of folks. Which leads to me a slightly different question. Why do we not see ourselves as solutions to our own problems? Why don’t we feel a responsibility to work on these issues?
For me, I’m not waiting for deus ex machina to "rescue" our education system. I challenge myself to work with an urgency that attempts to move the needle toward resolution rather than deeper despair. I’m not waiting for someone or something to come save the day. I want to work with each of you, today, to be our own best solution. To remedy the ills. To make an imperfect system better. I don’t think there is an answer to our problems that we don’t already know. The answer isn’t mysterious. The solutions are in each of us. Right Now!