Disinterest, apathy, nihilistic complacency, selfishness… Whatever. Call it what you like; I don’t give a shit what word you use. Anyone who has spent time in school, college, or university knows this: too many people just don’t give a shit.
Teachers often don’t give a shit anymore if they ever gave a shit to begin with. Many of us fell into teaching in ways predicated on not giving a shit in the first place. Students often don’t give a shit because, in the words of the prophetic Hokey Pokey, “That’s what it’s all about!” That’s the real thing we learn in schools, right? How to not give a shit? How to reap without sowing, or sowing as little possible. Low investment, high return. How to grow a garden or lose weight or make money—or get diplomas, get published, receive awards, acclaim, and tenure—without really having to give a shit.
Teachers and students often don’t talk to each other about the shits they don’t give, but they do talk amongst themselves. Be a fly on the wall of an intimate hallway conversation between students and teachers, or listen to they way they pine for the times when not giving a shit is more explicit and honest: weekends, breaks, and the blessed Summer. The fact that exceptional teachers and students—code for “teachers and student who give a shit or two”—are “exceptional” shows us that, literally, the exception proves the not-giving-a-shit rule.
I’m no shit-giving saint. Not even close. More often than not, I don’t give a shit either. I didn’t choose to become an “educator” really, things just happened. People often make the mistake of thinking that I worked hard for my degrees, but everyone who knows me knows that I don’t give a shit about them: they (especially my Ph.D.) were just easy and free ways to have enough day-to-day freedom to not give a shit about not giving a shit all the time and, maybe just maybe, give a shit every once in a while. Amidst the constant giving and taking shit, I’m just trying to LIVE. I’m trying to sneak some love into the world.
Herein lies the somewhat cliche key, at least for me: the first step to giving a shit is being vulnerable to the fact it is HARD to give a shit. Giving a shit is more than an abstract, shallow appetite for something. Giving a shit takes work. Hard work. I give a shit about my music, or at least that’s what I say, but the real shit I give is usually a pathetic, remorseful one. I give a shit in my occasional desire for redemption. My desire to practice, to re-form my life and lose the twenty pounds I lost last year (and the year before that) and gained all over again.
I think we could all give a shit by realizing how little of one we give right now. I am constitutionally averse to priggish activists who tell me about all the shits they give when their eyes are glazed in ideology. I want to find a confessor, like Augustine or Miles Davis; a soloist who cries and wails and indulges in reaching out for that Love Supreme that is so out of fashion these, secular days.
Teachers and students don’t give a shit. This is NOT a problem or a sin or a predicament. It is not something to be fixing somehow. In fact, it is perfectly reasonable, intuitive, and beautiful that teachers and students don’t give a shit. It makes as much sense as crying at a funeral or buying at a shopping mall. We give a shit in places and spaces where the conditions for the possibility of giving a shit are possible and present. That schools are not—and perhaps never have been—such places is the work that must be done. But we can only begin through dis-allusionment: removing the allusion that we gave, give, or will give a shit or two.
Creating the conditions for the possibility of giving a shit: that is what I call educational re-form. A new form from which education may become possible and present.