The Myth of Sisyphus





Sisyphus Redux

          By Will Baker


Albert Camus was deeply concerned with individuals and the world about them. In The Myth of Sisyphus we see Camus’ response to rationalism. He took exception to the philosophical systems, which preceded him that sought to define enduring truths, and in making his argument he emphasized the idea of subjective truth and freedom of choice. Camus’ Sisyphus is cast as a hero of the absurd. He has full awareness of his dilemma. He scorned the gods, lived life to the fullest and loathed the idea of death. In response the Gods sentenced him to rolling a rock to the top of the mountain, only to have it cast back down for him to begin his task again… for all eternity. He does not ask the Gods for pity, he does not complain but rather through freedom of choice this absurd hero redefines his existence. But sadly, it seems to me that Camus’ hopeful metaphor is oftentimes misunderstood.

Along the same lines, I find it interesting how some folks will on the one hand express hope for societal change yet simultaneously accept the status quo. It makes for an interesting dynamic. Take for example the issue of violence in schools. Do we want to throw around catchy slogans that make us feel better about ourselves like "Children First," or "No Child Left Behind" or do we as a society actually want to do something to address outrageous situations.

Although I'll admit to being taken back by recent reports of police "Tasering" students in schools, I've been bothered by the issue of police being posted in schools for some time. My quick research on taser use by police officers whom are posted in schools indicates that these are not isolated incidents. As an aside, I have no problem with parents administering the "rod" or perhaps even under certain circumstances members of a school's faculty. I might even agree with the practice of "tasing" if a policeman, while on routine patrol out in the broader community is called upon by the school for assistance. However it seems to me that a policeman, routinely posted at a school who tasers a student might be beyond the pale.

I believe that a drug and or violence problem in a school that rises to such a degree that it requires a daily on-site police presence (which in my opinion fundamentally alters the school experience and creates issues of its own) has become a sort of public health problem. If the school had a mold or asbestos problem, or dangerous faulty wiring an emergency would be declared and the school would be closed until the problem was resolved.

On a related note, I have had discussions with secondary school educators regarding the challenges with which they are faced. One fellow, who is a school district superintendent, indicates that many resources, that could and would be used for other activities, are required to be used to comply with federal requirements-- Title 1 and the No Child Left Behind Act, to name two. Anyway, he says that some school districts across the nation are opting out of federal funding altogether-- which amounts to 10-15% of their budgets, so that they do not have to comply with some federal requirements. Of course, laws can be changed, and I believe that if a given school is in crisis and it is determined that some rule should be modified so that the problem(s) might be resolved, there is no reason why this shouldn't happen. It seems to me that it is about where our societal priorities are.

A few years back the AMA and Surgeon General issued a report on violence in schools (in the context of it being a public health problem) that spoke to problem solving and critical thinking as important tools that must be taught in order to mitigate certain behaviors. After giving this some thought it occurs to me that what we are seeing in schools: the mindset that results in kids being tasered by police, might perhaps be related to a societal movement which among other things we see expressed in trends associated with changes to the criminal justice system. I have heard it argued that gone are the days when we seek to rehabilitate convicts; it's now about locking them up, period. And due to mandatory minimum sentences our prison population has reached unprecedented levels. It seems to me that it's not much of a stretch to argue that a society, which has made these types of choices (including the incorporation of this morphed criminal justice system into the school experience-not as a topic in civics class but as an on site police presence at some schools), would be indifferent to the tasering of children in schools. Perhaps this is a result of the lines between parental and societal responsibilities becoming blurred?

In arguing these points with an acquaintance who was attempting to utilize Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus to demonstrate the absurdity of endeavoring to do anything to effect change in our worst-case schools, I had to take exception with him. For it seems to me that Camus’ views on absurdity actually support my argument for change--Camus argued that although existential absurdity negates the potential for eternal freedom it amplifies one's freedom to act. In other words, change is possible in every situation therefore the status quo is a work in progress.

But back to our places of pedagogy, some of which I believe might be under assault. It seems to me that posting police in schools fundamentally alters the school experience. For example, it is possible that some students (perhaps minorities subjected to instances of racial profiling) might feel intimidated. Of course this is just one example of the effects of police in schools on one cohort. At the end of the day, I would argue that a routine police presence in schools is at best a distraction and at worse is antithetical to the promotion of the type of atmosphere that is conducive to the free exchange of ideas.

You might ask, "If a few police officers can make the situation better in the school, is that not a better solution for the students than keeping them all out of school?" It seems to me that that's a good question to pose to any parent of a child who has been shot to death in a worse case, at-risk school. But I am not advocating for the withholding of education. I believe that as regards the most extreme cases, a public health emergency should be declared and neither effort, nor expense should be spared in resolving each local problem.



 (Essay Collection)




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