In 333 BCE, a young king named Alexander (perhaps not yet known as “The Great”) may or may not have had a vexing encounter with a knot made of cornel bark, may or may not have sliced it in half with his sword, and may or may not have thereby made his legal claim to rulership of Asia and spawned one of the most enduring legends in Western culture.
This parable is often touted in modern American culture as an example of divergent, “out-of-the-box” thinking: the ability to see many solutions to one problem, thereby equipping the problem-solver with manifold options for completing the task – many of which may be much simpler and easier than the “conventional” or “nose-to-the-grindstone” solution. I’m more of the opinion that this interpretation is a hindsight-enabled, best-possible-version of events – knowing what I know of Alexander’s personality, I think it far more likely that he just got frustrated and hacked the thing to bits.
It’s a powerful image either way; either way, the problem got solved, either with ingenuity, or with passion. Looking at this legend now, as I walk my road to the title and vocation of “teacher”, I can’t help but draw a comparison between Alexander’s situation and the situation of my own (near-future) students. They, too, have a frustrating, knotted, tangled problem before them, which will take a lot of determination and grit to get through: they must successfully navigate and negotiate the devious web of standardized assessments, warped expectations, and uninformed rhetoric which guide my country’s education policymaking; they must fight through classes arranged around “tried-and-true” methodology which are trying to guide them toward the wrong conclusions; they must retain their native gifts, foster them in secret, and somehow hold onto the passion and uniqueness that defines them, in the face of a passionless and baffling establishment.
I think there is a simpler solution for my students. I think that instead of breaking their hearts trying to fight through all the various trials our system currently puts in their way to weed out the “weak”, they should be circumventing, outflanking, outthinking. They should be asking themselves, “what do I really need to do, and what is the simplest way to do it?” They need to wonder whether what they’re trying to do is be reknowned for untying a knot, or reknowned for ruling Asia. (Metaphorically.)
I seek some way in which I can hand them a sword, whisper in their ears to really think about this seemingly insurmountable problem, and lead them to the courage it will take to just cut the damned thing. I don’t know exactly what this will look like; but it is my greatest ambition as a teacher.