To Reform, We Must be Conflicted

25/03/2015 12:33 GMT | Updated 24/05/2015 10:59 BST

I was born a fickle man. Ever since I was young I have always needed a focus, something which defined me. On the playground I used to tell all my friends my latest hobby and then attempt to be the best at it. My parents called me faddy; they were spot on. I needed something to work towards, something to be an expert in and, more importantly something that fitted the way I thought perfectly. Even now, I flick between academic passions and obsessions with fitness. In short, I am a man of one side or the other, desperate to find his balance but never succeeding.

If you delve deep enough you will always find the foundations of arguments. Only when you accept or deny those foundations can you build your argument on top and have it construct the way you view life, and also how you live. I may be fickle and conflicted, but I am also a person who looks to the foundations. Take for example 'Should we blame others'. This question's ramifications are huge, but it is really built upon the question of whether we believe things happen to us, or we are agents of change ourselves: responsible for our own actions. Depending on your answer, you can then argue to some degree whether or not the welfare state is right, whether or not we should have private property, whether some should pay more tax than others, whether we punish people for their actions, or even reward people for their successes.

This philosophical question is one I struggle with the most, especially given my role: teaching those too vulnerable, or with too many behavioural needs to cope in mainstream education. I discovered early on that the expectancy further up was that our students have the same opportunities as those in mainstream education. I quickly decided to disregard this falsity under simple rational understanding of the world: we are not all born into equal positions, and this truth sets us on a journey of which we have little, if any control.

Although we can attempt to re balance the unfairness of initial circumstance, there are often numerous factors hindering this quest for equality. Instead, many young people who come to us start the great race of life with their laces tied together, constantly behind from the beginning with a few people on the side lines attempting to cut the ties as they struggle past; sometimes you slice the lace, sometimes you don't.

A bleak outlook, but I simply couldn't do this job without being determinist. How else can I empathise, and understand that people often aren't to blame for the way they turn out. But, here's the kicker: How can I fully understand a young person's position, often being at an initial disadvantage, yet logically find value in my role which attempts to empower them to change their circumstances by their own individual governance?

'You have the power to change this' I keep saying, in one way or another, every day. But how can I truly believe this when many go home to places, or people, that undermine the lessons I am trying to teach. It's all predestined to fail Ben, I found myself saying in between banging my head against a brick wall.

I am a classic compatibilist: accepting a degree of freewill within the boundaries of deterministic constraints. But that's just not me! I'm uncomfortable in this grey area, because if you burrow down it's still a question of determinism or free will.

After many a term, I discovered this conflicting mentality, this hatred I have for my own contradiction, is required for me to do what I do. I need to be in a state of uncertainty about this very position, otherwise I couldn't put enough belief into each student and each lesson, whist also being able to maintain the voice in the back of my head telling me the constraints felt by each individual are far beyond what I have experienced.

I need to both understand the impossibility and inevitability of the world of determinism, and yet attempt to widen the constraints by a pure belief in free agency. If I were to fully accept that the dye is cast, my job, and that of any other professional working in reforming or rehabilitating people, would be pointless.

Being able to understand that situation determines a certain type of behaviour, and yet fully believe that people are not inanimate objects, floating in a sea of predetermination as Sartre denounces, is key to being a good educator and key to working with those from difficult backgrounds.

It is something every professional working with people should commend in themselves, that the conflict they feel isn't a psychological burden, but something truly remarkable which allows them to do what very few would be able to in a world where more and more, like me, seem to just accept one side or the other.