Friday, December 07, 2007

Humanity, Sanity and Insanity

Ideas Versus Humanity

Trinity College Dublin, which notably was founded by the great Virgin Queen Bess I in 1592 and is the oldest college in Ireland, remains a veritable academic, if not spiritual oasis, at the heart of our busy city. It is in the news today, that is, The Irish Times, Friday 07/12/2007, page 11. The headline on this rather heartening story runs: “President leads fond memories in Trinity College of “Matt the Jap” – a truly atrocious and un-stylistic headline. However, the piece underneath, is truly touchingly written, bringing us a “feel-good”, “touchy-feely” story to warm our hearts for these dark days on the run up to the Christmas season.

However, I must heap praise on the head of the assistant junior dean of TCD, one Dr. Joseph O’Gorman, who delivered a truly touching eulogy on the late Matteo Matubara, more fondly called “Matt the Jap” who, since graduating from this hallowed academe with an MLitt in 1987, had apparently hung around in the interim up until his death making a likeable nuisance of himself – a sort of a quixotic eccentric who could speak and write some seven languages. Some of us can only make fools of ourselves in one or possibly two languages. I envy the late Matt’s greater scope for tom-foolery.

However, I must get to the heart of the matter before getting a little too drunk on my words. Therefore, let me get back to the words of the erudite Dr. Joseph O’Gorman. I think and feel that his words, which are quoted in today’s article, are deserving of acknowledgement for their wisdom and profundity. In short, here is what he had to say: “Matt has, for generations of staff, students, lecturers, personified a link back to Trinity in a very real way that has been for many of us more tangible than any number of degrees and diplomas. For is our humanity not better comprehended by understanding humans rather than ideas?”

Is not this last sentence worth pondering? It’s brilliant really, and that this sentiment was enunciated by a learned don in the very heart of the academy is even more important. It’s good to see that our academics are not living in ivory towers. We all need to stay real.

I teach in an inner city school where the anger levels are getting higher and higher. A growing minority of students are positively explosive. Teachers are getting pens and other articles hurled at them of late by boys who need professional help. Add to this the fact that we have recently had a WSE or Whole School Evaluation, which we are told, went very well. Here, you get inspectors, five or six in all, who come to "live within" the school community for a week to evaluate what is happening on the ground. They have ideas, lofty enough methinks; somewhat impractical methinks, too and, they do seem to live in ivory towers, methinks, also. I wonder could they suggest how to handle the stress of meeting naked aggression. Would they tell the teacher to reflect on the incident, write a report, consult the discipline policy document, refer the poor boy to the school counsellor or psychologist if only there were one? Maybe, simpling ducking the thrown object is all one can do before reporting to the principal? Who will be our first staff member to be punched in anger, methinks betimes? Anyway, what I’m getting at with this rather tangential digression is that the real world is always there, no matter how much we wish to flee off to our academic, imaginary or ideal one. These young kids are keeping us real.

Here’s a bit of cynicism to “put in your pipe and smoke it” as it were. An erstwhile erudite vice-principal of St Joseph’s, who spent some forty years of his working life in our classrooms and corridors, made this rather cynical comment as his career drew to its timely conclusion: “Ah forty years of casting imaginary pearls before real swine!” Heresy, I hear you cry. How dared he betray our lofty pedagogical ideals and principles? While his comment is all too bitter, sarcastic and downright cynical, it does contain elements of the truth. After all, heresies are not lies or falsehoods but rather twisted truths or truths not fully understood! We humans grow tired of the struggle to survive and as we age we do tend to get more realistic if not a touch cynical. Ideals are fine and dandy, and they do have their place, but alas and alack humanity has a way like the proverbial weeds of pushing up through the cracks in our concrete jungles of thoughts and ideals. Kids keep us real. Adults keep us real, too, if we let them. In other words, Dr. Joseph O’Gorman’s words must set our minds thinking and our souls singing for truly we can all say with him “For is our humanity not better comprehended by understanding humans rather than ideas?” It would seem that “Matt the Jap” kept Trinity real. Is the Virgin Queen Bess smiling down from her lofty quarters in the heavenly quadrangle mewonders? Sanity and insanity are not too finely demarkated methinks, methinks, betimes, betimes...

Above I have placed a picture I took in TCD this summer!

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