Mark Watney: At some point, everything's gonna go south on you... everything's going to go south and you're going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That's all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem... and you solve the next one... and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, questions?
I watched The Martian for the second time this past weekend and I’ve been thinking about the above quote since. It seems to capture much of what life and existence is - a series of problems. We can accept problems as they arise and live with them or we can begin working to solve them.
Regardless of how many we choose to work on and possibly solve along the way, more will pop up. Life is problems, sequentially encountered, often in parallel, until we die.
Framing it this way has actually been really nice for coping with that reality because it highlights the futility of working on all problems, all the time. Instead, I can simply focus on the problems that are meaningful to me and that I would feel satisfied with advancing solutions to and accept the rest, which will hopefully be picked up and solved by others.
We call all of this collective problem solving “progress”.
I think the central problem I can most contribute a partial solution to is student suffering and wasted potential from the systemic issues with modern schooling. That’s an endless problem, but I can chip away at it with each student I encounter.
There are many other problems that concern me greatly: absolute and relative poverty, health and healthcare, equality of rights. However, those seem beyond my maximal effective impact. I enjoy highlighting them as potential problems that some of my students may wish to take up in the future, but I am better equipped to help them than I am to reduce poverty, disease, or legal protections for oppressed groups of people.
I also am not sure that my best personal fit will be in classroom teaching. I think classrooms are some of the major contributors to the student suffering and wasted potential I mentioned above. I am still figuring out how to chip away at the problem. I know from experience, I’ve felt most successful in one-on-one tutoring or adult education. Perhaps I will return to those or something else entirely.