Monday Metaphor: Concrete and Dirt

When I first began long-distance running, I prefered the feel of smooth concrete.  Being a bit too abstract (read “unable to pay attention to what’s in front of me”) it was nice to guarantee that everything was flat and clean.  Concrete worked fine at first, but after my third 14 miler, my knees hurt.  So did my ankles.  When I began talking to experienced runners, they suggested I switch to running on dirt.  Apparently humans weren’t made for concrete.  Though the surface looks benign, it can be dangerous when someone attempts a twenty-miler.  When I first switched to running on the canal, it was difficult.  Here, I had to avoid rocks, deal with small hills and check ahead of time when it rained.  Besides, it was slower than concrete. It seemed counterintuitive to me.  The concrete looked so much nicer, but the dirt turned out to save my legs.  So, on my twenty-two mile run today, I started thinking about dirt and concrete.  There’s not a lot of stimulation, so it’s easy to focus on the mundane and begin crafting little metaphors to pass the time.  I started to think about the journey of a teacher.  I can choose the path of standardized education.  It’s smooth.  It looks nice.  It’s clean and effecient and faster than the dirt road.  Worksheets, textbooks with teacher’s guides, standardized tests – these are part of a clean, crisp, industrial path that’s as solid as concrete.  It seems to work at first. Except it leads to burn-out, because we’re not made for concrete.  The authentic path made of dirt and rocks and crushed rocks looks more dangeorus.  After all, giving a teacher freedom to develop resources, use authentic assessment and teach with best practices seems like asking for someone to sprint on rocks.  It’s slower.  It’s filled with ups and downs.  It’s more challenging.  Yet, it’s how teachers are designed.  We’re not made for concrete.  We’re made for the earthy reality of authenticity.  

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

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2 responses

  1. you have way too much time on your hands when you run

  2. I love the way you think. Your running reminds me of riding a razor with my grandsons. There are some pretty large cracks in the driveway, and sometimes I lose my balance, but the experience itself is too much fun to avoid because of risks. Teaching is the same way.

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