Friday, January 21, 2011

A Zen Buddhist Story

Today we had a full corps meeting, as we do every friday and during some work time a co-worker of mine, D.J. brought up a story that I thought would be fun to share with you.

D.J. first told this story at a professional development session that he attended at his school which was addressing the concept of tracking in schools. Many schools now will assign their students to various tracks: a college prep track made up of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes and a regular or non-college bound track with regular or even remedial classes. In the meeting, someone asked: "Does academic tracking perpetuate segregation in education?" D.J. replied that it does not have to, but only if both tracks have similar expectations and a set of future plans. The college track gives students a set of defined goals and ways to achieve them. The 'regular' track, however, does not provide it's students with any rigid expectations, or plans for the future. D.J. believes that the best solution would be one where expectations are appropriately high and understandably clear for all tracks.

To illustrate his point, D.J. told this story:

There was a monastery in the mountains of Thailand that was once considered an attractive order to be a part of. It contributed a lot to the well being and spirituality of the community around it. Recently, however it had become a dying order. Monks and Nuns were leaving in droves and the spiritual vitality of the community was dwindling.

The head Abbot of the monastery decided to visit a Rabbi of a successful and vibrant community to seek some guidance. The Abbot told the Rabbi that he was worried about the future of his monastery. The Rabbi replied: 'That's just terrible, and too bad because I heard from an Abbot nearby that a member of your monastery is about to become the next to be enlightened, so it would be a shame for it to die out." Surprised, the Abbot thanked the Rabbi for his time and headed back to his monastery.

When the Abbot returned to the monastery he shared the Rabbi's news with the community. Everyone was surprised to hear that the next to become enlightened was among them, but mostly returned to their normal lives.

As time went on, the members of the monastery started treating one another a little differently- thinking that maybe the other was supposed to be the next to become enlightened. And then they thought, wait, maybe it's me! So each individual started working harder on his/her spiritual development and soon the order was rebuilt and back to it's full vitality.

The moral of the story is that it does not matter whether or not someone in the order was about to become enlightened, the expectation that someone would was enough motivation to rebuild the order. When the members of the monastery could envision a future for themselves, they were successful.

According to D.J., if all students were able to aspire to a future they could envision, they would all be successful, regardless of what track they were assigned and whether or not they end up in college in the future.


  1. This strikes me as a philosophy dangerously close to "pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps".

    I do not feel that this monastery story, which takes place in a context outside of the United States, is applicable to students in the U.S. educational system. It leaves out any acknowledgment that race and class impact a child's education.

    I would encourage DJ (and anyone interested) to read Race in the Schoolyard by Amanda Lewis. This book, to quote Amazon, "explains how the curriculum, both expressed and hidden, conveys many racial lessons. While teachers and other school community members verbally deny the salience of race, she illustrates how it does influence the way they understand the world, interact with each other, and teach children. This eye-opening text is important reading for educators, parents, and scholars alike." Another useful book on the subjects of race and class is Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau.


  2. Laura,

    I completely agree with you that race and class have a strong influence on student success- and just mostly thought this was an interesting story to share, especially as I'm always looking for more voices besides my own to be present here.

    However, don't you think that both of those factors contribute to school administration having lower expectations for these students? For example, not only do low income students often lack the early exposure to books, educational activities, or adults with extensive academic achievement, they also enter schools which, subconsciously because of those factors, I think, do not have the same amount of aspirations for them?

    I guess what I mean is that I don't see this story as a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" story but rather one that I am attempting to connect (and I think this was DJs point too) to the idea that if schools/teachers/administrators treated each student as though their futures were equally important then perhaps the education system would be better for all students.