My mind’s been wandering a great deal lately. This at a time when focus would be quite useful, and yet–I don’t mind a little mental meandering. I think that, akin to daydreaming, a lack of focus can lead to creative thinking. Of course, the downside is that it may also lead to lollygagging and a lack of ambition.
I’ve been thinking about the way contemporary Americans use the word “engagement.” Not as in marriage proposals–that definition hasn’t changed–but in statistics, marketing, self-help, and education. My department at the university has been directed to “foster student engagement.” Our administration wants us to find ways to engage students, but it seems what’s meant by that is simply to attract their attention amid the myriad distractions and attractions of modern life. In my area of the college, where students go to get a little extra assistance in their coursework or their educational plans, we have long been aware that we can’t reach everyone who needs help and that we cannot create enthusiasm or involvement. Apparently, engagement is supposed to lead to motivation. That would be a miracle. Like many young people when I was a young person, today’s young people are often rather undirected. Wandering.
I wonder whether gap years or a required year of community or civil service would benefit people before they march off to college to “become a physical therapist” or whatever it is they think of as a career. Many of them would save on tuition fees, because maybe they are not that keen on academic coursework after all, or because they can go to college with a better idea of what they want to learn (rather than end up attending for 6 years because they changed majors). US society has evolved to push its citizens through large, unwieldy systems that supposedly create clear-thinking individualists who can fit into whatever job market the nation happens to foresee itself needing in future, but there is so much wrong both with that methodology and with that picture in the first place.
I’m with Walt Whitman and the loafing approach to observation and creative thinking, but that probably won’t be sufficient for a nation with a population of 336 million people.
This is not my problem to solve, and I would not be the person elected to solve it. But I ponder this sort of thing.
This poem appeared in Schuylkill Valley Journal Online. It’s a persona poem in which I imagine being Walt Whitman as a young child. May we encourage our young people to wonder and wander (and, yes, loaf a little).
When Mother sends me with a bucket to the pump and it is a rainy day, droplets landing on my face, I open my eyes trying to see where the rain starts but cannot because I blink—and why is it that I blink without ever meaning to? My Baby Brother wails so loud I hear him out of doors although the rain is also noisy splashing the leaves. I can tell the wagons’ wheels are spewing mud as they clobber past hitched to wet horses who snort at the weather. The pump handle feels slick and water spurts into my bucket so that I think of a waterfall in a gully or tumblers at the sea’s shore where the little fishes get caught in the seining nets. When the bucket’s full I set it down beside me and watch water’s surface going plip plip and my own face under the rain and how it is that I can keep my eyes open looking into the bucket: behind me in the reflection is the cloud that is raining all upon the Town. Mother calls me to the house, You have been loafing. The bucket, full now and heavy, becomes my chief burden although a hen scurries beside me, and the ice man hollers at his little brown donkey and the world around me is so full of everything! ~