“Isolation is a way to know ourselves.” Franz Kafka – Isolation
Is social distancing healthy for us?
The Coronavirus outbreak of 2020 has driven society into isolation. Schools are closed, and businesses are shut down. Our social lives have stopped functioning, and we’re at home with much more alone time. Isolation can breed some sadness and despair, but also offers a chance for us to reflect and evaluate our lives in a positive and meaningful way.
Join Steve and Dan Fouts for an unforgettable conversation about isolation using the Teach Different 3-Step Method.
Whether you are a teacher, school leader, or simply someone interested in experiencing the joy and fulfillment of challenging kids with big ideas, join our worldwide Community of Educators FREE for 30 days. Membership includes access to our robust library of resources, conversation plans, and lively discussions among teachers and faculty.
Image source: Flickr | Christiaan Tonnis
Steve Fouts: 0:06
Hello everybody, Steve and Dan Fouts here. We are teaching different with European novelist Franz Kafka with a quote about isolation, quite appropriate for today’s world. Here’s the quote, “isolation is a way to know ourselves.” The word isolation has become familiar to many of us because of the Coronavirus outbreak. We’re confronting this new world where we’re spending a lot more time alone and apart from other people. Kafka is talking about knowing ourselves. You’ll want to focus on the word knowing, and make sure that there’s a common definition before you introduce the quote to the students. Ask them what they think he means by knowing and what it means to know yourself? Dan, what claim would you say Kafka is making?
Dan Fouts: 1:06 – Claim
It seems like a self-identity quote. The only way to know who you are, to identify with who you are, is to be alone and isolated. It’s an interesting claim, because, as you said, with all this social distancing we have time to think by ourselves. This is a time to think about who we are, what we value, and what we care about. I can see what he’s saying. When you have time, and pause to think about your life, you get a chance to know who you really are. Throughout this whole Coronavirus thing, I’ve realized how many distractions are in my life that take me away from thinking about who I am. They’re not bad distractions. It’s just part of modern life.
Steve Fouts: 2:11
Sure. Isolation brings out a forced self-reflection. You have yourself to reflect upon, you can think about yourself and your own self-preservation without the distraction of other people. Evidently that helps you know yourself better. That’s his claim. Let’s think about a counterclaim.
Dan Fouts: 2:36
Well, before the counterclaim, I think it’d be interesting to push this conversation along with students and just ask them to talk about a time when they were alone before this outbreak. Some students like to study alone. Some students simply like to be alone. They’re already loners. It might be interesting to ask the students who like to be alone what they get out of it. Do they feel like they know themselves better because they don’t have the distractions of other people? Why is that? This is when your shy students might invalidate this way of living, which would be really interesting.
Steve Fouts: 3:28 – Counterclaim
Sure, and you’re going to have students pushing back on this one, because there’s a very clear counterclaim with regard to self-knowledge. In many cases knowing who you are, what you’re good at, and what your purpose is involves other people. You are who you are because of the people you’re around, how you interact with people, and how you help them. It’s important to know what other people are thinking of you. Being able to function around other people helps you learn a lot about yourself.
Dan Fouts: 4:11
It pushes you. There are kids who get a lot of validation and approval from others. They yearn for other people’s feedback and get their identity from them. If you’re engaging students, whether online or in the classroom, you can ask the extroverts what other people give them. Do they give them a sense of themselves? What kind of energy do you get from others? I’m sure they’ll chime in with that. This will be a conversation that pits the extroverts agains the introverts.
Steve Fouts: 4:59 – Essential Question
Another way to engage students, maybe some of the younger students, is to ask the class whether they’re someone who likes to have just one friend, or a lot of friends. That’s another way to get a sense of who they are and how they want to spend their time, whether it’s alone, with one other person, or a group. Do they need to be around other people to feel like they’re productive?
Here’s an essential question you could ask to wrap up the conversation and create some reflective space for the students to keep going with this topic. Is social distancing healthy for us?
Dan Fouts: 5:54
I think in terms of curriculum connections, no matter your subject or grade level, go right to the Coronavirus as the event to apply to this essential question, and just see where it goes.
Steve Fouts: 6:13
Yeah, that’s probably going to have legs for a couple years.
Dan Fouts: 6:16
It would be interesting to hear how the kids are processing this pandemic. Maybe they’re not processing this at home. This question is important for people to consider. I would absolutely make the Coronavirus connection here.
Steve Fouts: 6:42
Definitely. Isolation can be a scary feeling. Your fears can magnify without you even knowing it. You may develop anxiety because you don’t have your normal distractions. It can be challenging, but Kafka is suggesting that it’s an opportunity to know yourself, and you really do have to shut out the rest of the world to do that. This is an important conversation.
We hope you enjoyed Kafka and have something to reflect upon. Make sure you visit our Conversation Library where we have many conversations like this, each with a different quote, a sample claim, counterclaim, and an essential question to get you started. We will see you soon with a new quote and conversation. Take care, everybody.
Dan Fouts: 7:49
Alright. Take care.