“One problem I see with those of us who want to be humane is that while we invariably support calls for justice at a macro level, some of us are not above taking advantage in our personal, day-to-day dealings. I once rented a room in a house full of Marxists, and one of them was one of the least just individuals I’ve ever met. Yet he regularly marched in favor of justice for the oppressed peoples of this world. If we want peace, it’s essential that we be peaceful. And if we want justice, we have to be just—down to the smallest transactions. I think a lot of people can agree with this easily. But there are always “grey areas.” That’s where we have to be especially disciplined and thoughtful.” -Mark Bittner, We Must Be Just, April 2013


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Compelling Power

These definitions are found in the American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828:

Force, To compel; to constrain to do or to forbear, by the exertion of a power not resistible.
2. To overpower by strength.
3. To impel; to press; to drive; to draw or push by main strength; a sense of very extensive use.
4. To enforce; to urge; to press.

Compel, To drive or urge with force, or irresistibly; to constrain; to oblige; to necessitate, either by physical or moral force.
2. To force; to take by force, or violence; to seize.
3. To drive together; to gather; to unite in a crowd or company.
4. To seize; to overpower; to hold.
5. To call forth.

Compulsion, The act of driving or urging by force, physical or moral; force applied; constraint of the will; the application of a force that is irresistible.
2. The state of being complelled or urged by violence.

Upon first examination of these definitions we may feel that to be forced or compelled is something to be avoided. However, I ask you to consider what, or who, it is that is compelling our education. Is it someone else or their ideas that are being forced upon us, or is it our own desire to learn about a subject of our choosing that compels us? Are we driven by our own hunger for knowledge or by a system that was designed to make education uniform? The positive or negative state of these words is of our own making. Being compelled by another, to do something we hold no desire to do, makes these words appear to be negative in meaning. If we are driven by our own interests in pursuit of knowledge, under our own power to freely choose where our road will lead, these words take on a much more positive state.

When we are negatively compelled, we find that we feel negative emotions toward whatever it is that is compelling us. When we are positively compelled just the opposite is true. How, then, are we to have a positive educational experience? The answer is simple: by allowing our own educational desires to compel us to action, not the desires of others.

John Taylor Gatto worked as a school teacher for nearly 30 years in New York. After he won New York State Teacher of the Year he received almost 1,800 letters in response to some essays he wrote about what he had witnessed as a schoolteacher. Here are a couple of excerpts:

Frankfurt, Illinois "I had a rich personal inquiry going on in many things. School was for me a tedious interruption of my otherwise interesting life."

Madison, Wisconsin "I'm desperate what to do. Three bright and lively children but everyday I see a closing down of enthusiasm as they grind their way through a predetermined school program."

Force, compel, and compulsion do not have to be words whose actions we try to avoid. If we allow our own educational desires to drive us, these words can be the greatest force in who we become.

5 comments:

Peter McCombs said...

When compelled from within, it is ambition and inspiration. When compelled from without, it is tyranny and coercion.

Christy said...

I think you can even be compelled from someone else, but it doesn't have to be negative. I have often been compelled by family, friends, teachers, and leaders to be better than I am. I guess some might call that encouragement, but in many instances I would consider it to be more compelling.

I love words.

Jodi said...

I agree with you Christy. I think, though, the difference between encouragement and coercion may be that you are being compelled to do something that you already show a desire to do instead of forcing you to do something that you don't want to do or do something that is not in your best interest.

Christy said...

Oh, I agree. Coercion is definitely either forcing one to do something they don't want to do or what is not in one's best interest. Coercion is such a divisive word.

Jodi said...

Isn't it interesting that, depending on ones intentions, a word can have such opposite effects on a person?

Soaring Potential


To fly with an eagle is to see sights unseen, as starlings fill the skies.

Even that little brown bird on the ground knows where it’s potential lies.


The ostrich and emu share a common trait, running is their forté.

Other birds, when allowed to be, seem to enjoy their play


A bobbing cockatoo dancing on it’s perch is truly a silly sight.

Now imagine that bird, free with its flock, as it passes in graceful flight.


Have you ever seen a pandemonium of parrots descend upon a tree back home?

For, you see, in reality, parrots weren’t bred to be alone.


The nightingale brings beauty to our ears, the peacock beauty to our eyes.

While all through the trees, where the mourning doves roost, hang the mourning dove’s mournful cries.


The flamingo stands on one leg for hours, while the penguin soars through the deep.

And though variety abounds throughout, they’re all birds from their very first peep.


There are birds that mimic, birds that screech and birds that can sing a soothing tune.

There are birds that welcome the morning as it breaks and birds who serenade the moon.


There is beauty to be found throughout the world of birds. Still, and none the less,

Only a bird, who is allowed to soar free, knows it’s own potential best.



“Do not do what someone else could do as well as you. Do not say, do not write what someone else could say, could write as well as you. Care for nothing in yourself but what you feel exists nowhere else. And, out of yourself create, impatiently or patiently, the most irreplaceable of beings.”

André Gide


"All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education"
- Sir Walter Scott