When I decided that I wanted to start blogging more regularly, it was natural to consider registering a domain name for my site. True, this wasn't absolutely necessary but I thought it might be fun and make my online presence here a bit sleeker. There are sites where you can play around with different domain names and see which ones are available (nameboy.com for example). I had a few ideas but several of them were already in use or violated some of the best practice for domain names. Nothing really seemed like a perfect fit and plenty seemed either clunky or pretentious. I landed on "dustdisciple" for a few reasons. First, when I use the word disciple, I don't necessarily mean it in the religious (i.e., Christian) sense but as a student or learner. The root of the word is the Latin "discere" meaning "to learn." The motto of my alma mater, Hobart College, is "disce." I know from my years of Latin in high school (shout out to Magistra Sugarman!) that this is the imperative form of the verb. As such, I always read it as "learn!" I even rowed in a boat named Disce on the crew team in college. As a teacher, I spend much of my time thinking about how to help my students learn. I also believe that all teachers must be practiced and perpetual students, as a thoughtful approach to teaching requires continuous adjustment and innovation. It's also vital that a teacher be humble. Like any profession that is built on close relationships with many other humans, missteps and misunderstandings are part of the territory.
So what about the "dust" part? It was mostly inspired by this photo I took in an alley in Saratoga Springs a few summers back:
I remember being drawn to this door as soon as I saw it. The door was covered in writing traced in the dust that thickly covered the painted green surface. Studying the patterns, I noticed a variety of names, hand prints, and symbols (together with the usual profanities). Some of the words had been smudged out by later visitors or blown away over time. This struck me as quite profound. A humans, we are compelled to leave our marks but even the most well-defined messages are only temporary. When writing in dust, you can wipe away another's words or add to them but it's tough to make a substitution. This made me think of my work as an educator. Human beings are never like blank sheets of paper ready to be filled with knowledge. Instead, we are more like this door- covered with memories and experiences. As teachers, trying to wipe these away is unproductive. Instead we have to figure out how to fit our messages into our students' existing experiences and frameworks.
This door also reminded me of a sand mandala. I first encountered one of these in college where a popular course led by a monk from the Dalai Lama's monastery taught students how to create a giant mandala from colored sand. This was done in the foyer of the library and so its progress was on display throughout the term. Students and their teacher spend hundreds of hours on the intricate and beautiful design. When it was completed, it was transported to the lake where it was dispersed into the wind and water. I never took this course, but my understanding was that this ritual represented the ephemeral nature of our human endeavors. It was also a reminder that it's the process that is important and that any human monument, like the statue of Ozymandias, is subject to erosion and dispersal into its base units over time. Like on the dusty door, we are compelled to leave our marks among the layers of scratchings of our fellow travelers, even though they will surly be altered, augmented, and eventually smudged out. But as teachers and learners, we know that it's the process itself that adds value and meaning.