The Zen of Commuting

The Zen of Commuting

I am trying to make a metaphor to connect driving and teaching. It isn’t there yet, but I’m going to play with it in this space. 

My drive from Omaha to Lincoln every morning allows me to glide down I-80 which has been upgraded to mostly six lanes all the way at 75 mph.

After a week, I have grown to appreciate commuting. My normal daily drive to work only takes about seven minutes and carries me across a crowded stretch of 90th street in the heart of Omaha. This drive allows me time and space to think, listen and observe. The one distraction to my 45 minute meditation is the preponderance of bad drivers on the road. 

Yesterday, I was almost driven off the road by three pick-ups who seemed to believe that they were in the Omaha 500 as they merged across three lanes of traffic at 80 mph swinging from lane to lane to try to gain some small advantage. 

My mind can go from contemplating the universe, the nature of humanity, the perfection of a peach to “What is that idiot doing?” in a matter of miliseconds. And it is lucky that my brain switches that quickly, or I’d probably be dead by now. 

I hate to go all Euro-snob on you, but when I went to Germany, I learned about driving on the Autobahn. I have known the basic rules of the road for over twenty years, so this wasn’t really anything new to me, but I was impressed at the German discipline to follow the basic rules of the road. My American friend who drove us from Frankfort to Kaiserslaughtern explained that you don’t drive in the left lane. You only pass in the left lane. And if you are going the speed limit, you stay all the way to the right. 

In Germany, there were no slow moving campers cruising along in the left lane completely oblivious to the line of cars behind them. There were no careening minivans swinging from the middle lane to the right lane and back to the left in an effort to try to get by a slow moving vehicle in the middle. Traffic moved efficiently with an incredibly fast moving left lane, a steady middle lane, and a slower right lane for trucks and foreigners.

In general, the cars were in better shape, and the drivers seemed more aware of the world around them. I don’t think texting and driving was an issue yet, this was 2006, but I’m guessing that there aren’t many texting drivers on the Autobahn either.

I’m trying to think about the American driving deficiency as a metaphor for what is wrong with our education system. When I drive, I get this vibe of entitlement from the drivers around me. There are the left-lane hoggers who drive slowly in the left lane because they pay taxes and they can drive wherever and however they want to. They should never do this. No one should ever do this. But they do.

There are the entitled racing drivers who feel like they have the right to pass recklessly and drive as fast as they want, hugging other people’s bumpers and slipping and sliding from lane to lane dangerously. They should never do this. No one should.

The bottom line is that the Zen of commuting means that you will get where you’re going in a certain amount of time. It is inevitable. Blasting through traffic may earn you a few seconds, but at what cost to your soul?

So what does this have to do with education? 

It’s the attitude that we seem to have in this country to rush and hurry and feel obsessed with our own desires rather than working together as a community to make the resources we have work best for everyone. There is this myopic obsession with rushing toward some kind of end no matter the cost. My students rush from bell to bell to bell without really thinking about why they are doing it or taking time to think about which lane they should be in. It’s all about getting there rather than appreciating the journey.

Or maybe not. 

Just don’t drive in the left lane!

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