My Dear Dawn,
What can I say? After we parted ways and you left me forever to move West (To live closer to your family of all things! What treachery!), I’ve had my fill of talk about “progress.” Even before you left, the talk started.
Between my multiple jobs, setting up house, a new relationship, and looking toward the future, I have been given heaps of advice from coworkers, family, friends, and the odd cashier or waiter or car attendant, all in the hopes of helping me progress from whatever stage I am at in life (I have to admit, even I don’t really know) to something better.
“Progress,” as you well know, is a word that I particularly abhor when it comes to education, which is where my bread and butter comes from. With an emphasis on progress, do we really help students achieve greater things? Do we not, instead, instill in them a phobia of perceived failure, of not achieving enough in life? And who is to say what is enough to achieve in life? Doe a college degree define you? Does money? And all this is slowly trickling down into students’ heads!
And I think it trickled into mine, somewhere along the way. I think that might be where a majority of my fear come from, but, of course, I’m not 100% sure about that.
There is a lot of talk about this subject, I know, but I think it’s worth thinking about on your own terms without listening to what other people say, in my humble opinion.
Anyway, all this talk about “progress” and “success” is surrounding me as I sit in my very liminal state of life. How disgusting! … Or is it?
There was one instance where the “p” word was used around me that stood out: “Progress is not a straight line.” Sure, I heard that in a very specific context that was not the most interesting or inspiring to listen to, but it did strike a chord with me.
Progress, or success, is such a subjective, socially-constructed concept that I often shy away from it when applying it to myself and others. Then, hearing this in the context of an education-focused setting, the term that I’ve been so careful of hit me over the head and seemed to scream, “SEE? You do track progress and success! You HAVE to track it to get better! You can’t escape me!”
So, you could say that I’ve had a mini-epiphany in my first few months away from you, my darling Dawn. I track the progress of students and see each achievement they attain as a success. I do not mark any slips in their progress as failure, but simply as a regular part of the process. I look at my life and can see how I have developed (and still am) in different areas. As a historian, I naturally see how things change and develop over time–although you’ll notice I’m still avoiding the word “progress.” Which brings me to the next part of my epiphany: progress does not exist in a straight line.
The general concept of progress is that the given person, movement, place, thing, etc. is progressively changing, and usually toward something better than what is past. In other words, progress is usually perceived in a straight line, ever going upward. But reality? That’s just not the case.
Progress is accepting change with the hope of something better. If I am attempting a new skill or hobby and am continually falling back to where my skill level was at the beginning, does that mean I haven’t progressed? No, it just means I haven’t progressed to the point where I don’t have to start over again. I have progressed: every time I attempt to move forward I am learning something new and am not the same person as I was the first time. My line of progression is not straight: it is curled around and around again until I am able to move forward.
Maybe that makes sense, maybe it doesn’t, but it is a thought that has been growing on me as I’ve been grappling with all the changes and decision I’ve been facing in the last six months. Knowing you and how you think, I thought you would like to hear this little epiphany. If you have any thoughts, I’d be happy to hear them.