The Detoxing Man is Open (to difference)
School worked for me. It was a promise fulfilled. I got opportunity and financial security by playing the game of school with knowledge of and attention to all of the rules that were in place. It was easy because schools are built for people like me. They are built for people who are not forced to move around due to poverty. They are built for people who do not struggle to read or write because of learning differences. They are built for people who do not have significant other responsibilities, like caring for sick family members or needing to earn the money to live.
They were so tailor made for my way of life that I was convinced that formal education, in exactly the way I attained it, was the right path for everyone to travel. It worked for me, so too should it work for everyone. This kind of arrogance and blindness to difference was a part of me, even as I began teaching.
In teaching, and later in working with teachers and leaders in schools, I noticed something very strange. Not everyone took the same path that I did. Some kids didn’t want to go to college. Not because they couldn’t get in, but because they didn’t want to play that game and they weren’t sure the same promise that was fulfilled in me would be for them. Some adults went through alternative licensure programs that prized experiential learning over a degree. The rules about who gets to own knowledge and have authority was turned on its head and they were better for it. Other leaders, ones I respected the most, dropped out of high school or got very poor grades. They weren’t interested in learning how others wanted them to learn. They were creating their own path, their own promise for the future.
And being open to that difference was hard. We measured success by how many of our kids graduate and go to college. How could we possibly change that to allow for other opportunities? How could tell new stories and make new promises? By being open.
Being open means naming the hardships inherent in the work of learning something new, noticing that they are different for each of us. Being open means valuing passions and vocations regardless of the path to get there. Being open means letting go of a single standard for success.
It took me realizing that there was no goal post that I had reached, there was no final judgement or grade that I was getting. It was all made up. The diploma, the certificates, the Summa Cum Laudes. These are the markers of being closed to difference. These are the indicators of a singular authority, a constrained way of being.
Instead, I choose to be open. To difference, to multiple pathways, to making a life that you actually want to live rather than one which was prescribed for you. Just as my pathway was different from yours to get to this point, so too can I accept yours as valid and worthy.