Tilting at Windmills

“Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.”-Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote

It has been suggested that I am a pedagogical Don Quixote.

Where the researcher sees trends, I see exceptions. Where the professor sees poor management, I see a shoe that needs to be tied before a nose gets bloodied.  Where a principal sees mediocre instruction, I see a lesson changed in mid-gear because it is a non sequitur in the context of Lauren’s discovery last night that her parents are getting a divorce. Where a colleague sees the veteran teacher down the hall as “one foot out of the job”, I see a woman wise beyond a novice’s understanding. The politico sees American kids falling behind?   I see a mouthpiece who has never left the country. The neighbor complains that kids don’t work as hard as those in days past? I see streets and parks empty of free-playing youth, and air conditioned “learning centers”packed with pre-pubescent academic strivers. You see gains caused by new-fangled reading instruction; I see an inheritance in a dad reading to his kids each night at bed time, without fail.

Don Quixote had Rocinante and Sancho Panza.  I have a pair of wrinkled khakis and a stubborn belief that we are overlooking what is  essential for successful learning. We are tireless in finding what is sufficient in education: techniques, strategies, technologies, meetings, plans, and good intentions.  They are  impressive, expensive, and short-lived.  They are sufficient, but not essential. In our hurried labor to do what we have to do, we neglect to do what we should do.

The renown psychologist Berry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice argues that American schools have their ladder on the wrong wall.  He claims that, “The wise are made not born” and that U.S schools are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time and money dispensing knowledge instead of cultivating wisdom. Wisdom, the trait of a truly productive people, is at the crossroad of intelligence and common sense. In its feverish pursuit of measurable gains in facts and numbers, schools gorge our kids with information and starve them of any practical judgement.

Cervantes wrote that too much sanity is madness. So, too, are too many rules. Rules, mandates, and policies have been inflated beyond their purpose; in their overblown applications they ruin wisdom. They skuttle the opportunity public schools offer us: to promote and maintain a democratic society. 

There I go tilting at windmills.  

Maybe my humble legacy, after a couple decades in the classroom, is to have survived in spite of my madness.

Con honor,


P.D. This marks the last in a series of short posts I’ve drafted as part of a graduate class I am taking this summer.  While trying to satisfy the course requirements, I have also attempted to articulate a way to thrive in the classroom.  In these trying times we wrestle to meet the expectations of the folks calling the shots and address the needs of our students. Often times the two have very little to do with each other.
I imagine any U.S. public servant, be it cop, nurse, or teacher, is struggling with the same issues as society undergoes a rambunctious cultural revolution. 


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