Work Freedom

“One of the deepest horrors of modern man is to recognize to which which degree that inner fear, to which he doesn’t know how to relate, makes a sham out of freedom.” -Ivan Illich, The Rivers North of the Future

Last October, John Palfrey, former Executive Director of the Berkman Center and one of the BC’s current faculty co-directors, spoke at the school where I used to teach. I’d followed the work of the BC for awhile and was intrigued by the cool research and projects they were producing. After the presentation, I told John that I’d love to work with the BC to consider how they might expand and enhance the resources they offer for educators. (This felt a bit presumptuous, but it never hurts to ask, right?) John suggested that I write a proposal, which he would pass on to Urs Gassner, the Executive Director of the BC. The proposal was approved, so last Friday I took a flight to Boston, and, after a ridiculous shuttle ride, arrived in Cambridge. Zac and I spent some time on Saturday exploring the city and checking out his housing options for next year.


On Monday, I showed up for my first day at Berkman. I realized it was the first time I’d ever been given such latitude in terms of the work I was going to do. Of course, I’m working within the scope of the proposal and the mission of the Berkman Center, but more than once I’ve heard, “If that direction feels right/interesting/good to you, go with it, and let us know how we can support it. Think about talking with these people if you want feedback.” That kind of freedom can be a double-edged sword.  Freedom can be confusing or scary or overwhelming, instead of liberating. I was feeling a bit of that on Monday. By the end of the week, some cool possibilities are taking shape, and that day or two of fumbling/mucking seems useful.

Because I have perpetual teacher brain, I’m thinking about how my experience mirrors that of my students when they are presented with school work that gives them a significant degree of input/control as to what their final product will look like. I’m always a little surprised by the number of them that react, not with joy or excitement, but fear (which sometimes takes the form of whining). They have so often been told exactly what to do (200 words beginning with these sentences starters and including a picture from this website) that the freedom feels overwhelming. So I can say- What are you excited about? How can I support you? Talk to these students if you want feedback.

A postscript

I’ve also really enjoyed hanging out with the Youth and Media folks in the charmingly cramped 🙂 space on the third floor of 23 Everett Street. Unlike some internships, where making coffee and relatively passive learning about the organization seem to comprise the bulk of the work, the Berkterns are doing cool work.


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