For a while, denial worked for me. I treated it like some sort of solution. However, I’ve learnt the hard way that denial is a coping strategy, a way of masking a problem, a way of pretending everything is ok. The issue though is that at the end of the day everything isn’t ok and the problem still remains.
I was reminded of this recently with the death of my mum of kidney cancer at the ripe old age of 54. I remember when in the middle of last year that she first told me she had cancer and that it had already moved into her liver, I just thought that she would be ok. No matter that it would be incredibly difficult to operate, I just thought that she would somehow get through it. She overcame other challenges in life, why would this be any different? She didn’t and it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I truly realised the extent of it all. No matter that she hadn’t eaten properly for six months, that she had lost much of her weight. Like her, I was an eternal optimist. Not my mum, not my family, but as my wife so rightly put it, ‘cancer does not discriminate’. There are no rules about who gets it. Sometimes that is just life. The reality is, being in denial never helped me, especially at the end.
While reflecting on the matter, it occurred to me that denial pervades everywhere, especially in schools. Whether it be the denial that every student learns differently, that government tests and formal exams do not measure everything, that for some students there are greater concerns in their life than submitting a piece of homework or completing an assignment – there are so many examples of situations in school where it just becomes easier and more convenient to deny some things.
A really good example of this is the place of technology and digital literacies in school. In a recent post, ‘Choosing Not to Know‘, +George Couros spoke about the culture of fear that hangs over some school leaders in regards to implementing technology and social media. As he stated:
I had two administrators approach me yesterday and start a conversation.
One told me about how their IT department had closed all social media in their school and about how their fear that if they were to open it. The fear shared was that their would be so many more issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate content shared, amongst other things.
What stands out to me with Couros’ discussion is that it is not only a question of fear that leads to the locking down of social media, but also an act of denial. The world is changing, yet there are some in education who believe that social media is not significant enough to incorporate into the classroom. I understand that there are issues associated with opening up the classroom and providing more access access to social media, as Dick Faber pointed out to me on Twitter:
However, I would argue that this risk is not simply alleviated by locking schools down. This simply shuns some of the problems, but in doing so fails to resolve the bigger challenge, that of prevention.
I remember teaching at my first school ten years ago. We had a student who had a will to destruct, so he created a virus and progressively installed it on a dozen desktop computers via a floppy disk. Locking the systems down did nothing to stop this situation. Sadly, when there is a will, there is a way. Opening up the school to social media simply changes the possibility of those ways.
Instead of denying that social media exists, we should be asking the question, which application allows students to explore and understand more about social media, so that when students leave the classroom and the school they are more aware of the world around them and their place within it.
In the end what underlies so many instances of denial is the inability to recognise the change that exists everyday, around us. So often we lock our lives down to an idyllic representation of how things are. However, this notion of the world not only denies so many facets to make it possible, but also those aspects that change and evolve each and everyday. Associated with change is the inability to allow others to learn and fail. It can be so easy to hold onto an ideal, a perception of who someone is. As I have stated elsewhere, this failure to recognize change often denies who someone could be. Whether it be through errors in our ways or personal development, we are all constantly evolving.
I understand that sometimes it isn’t possible to fathom everything, that you can’t support the whole world, that a little bit of denial never hurt no one. However, on the flip side, it never really helped anyone either. Maybe the first and most important step is simply recognizing those complexities that we so easily deny. Although we may not be able to resolve all such problems, sometimes it is enough to recognize that complexities and chaos does exist in the world. In some respect, that is the biggest part of the battle won.
I would love to know your thoughts.
If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.