Today, I have been working on my PhD. And as a result of my reading and writing today, what is uppermost in my mind is the importance of pleasure – the simple pleasures of teaching, learning, writing, researching – and just living. I feel that pleasure in learning, what Simone Weil called ‘joy in the work’ is in danger of being eclipsed in all the talk of targets, improvements, standards etc.
Weil wrote that the intelligence only grows and bears fruit in joy. If she is right and I think she is, then much of what happens in schools today is not about growing intelligence. If teachers feel no joy in teaching, children are unlikely to feel much joy in learning, and if children don’t feel that joy in learning, that thrill of discovery, that freedom to try and to fail and try again, they will want to leave education as quickly as possible instead of seeing learning as a delight to pursue throughout their lives.
And today, I have felt joy. Joy in standing at my desk (I stand to work, sit down to rest); joy in reviewing the videos of my conversations with colleagues and pupils. Joy in the fact that I have the time and the energy and the mental space to write a PhD. Joy in the sunshine of a spring day in my study.
Interestingly, this joy does not preclude struggle or discomfort. I struggle to express my ideas clearly, feel anxiety about whether my work is of the required standard, get frustrated at trying to sort out a muddle of an over-long chapter into two tight, well-argued and interesting ones. There is dis-comfort in learning, too and it can sit, strangely enough, alongside the joy, even deepening it.
And what about the simple joys of standing, sitting, breathing, looking that my training as an Alexander Technique teacher has opened my eyes to? Those are there in the classroom too – but mostly, we’re too worried about targets and goals to notice. And that seems really rather sad. So now, I will end a day’s reflections with the joy of a walk in the sunshine. And, if you read this, I wish you a drop of joy too.
Weil, Simone. (1959) Reflections on the right use of school studies with a view to the love of God London: Fontana Books