The Program and its Projects
I had exerted a strong project focus at the Bob Steele Reading Center throughout the eight years of my tenure, in no small measure in pursuit of the trajectory of my own “growth.” However “narcissistic” (Lasch, 1978; Leinberger and Tucker, 1991), this impetus tapped into certain creative energies unleashed via what I would like to refer to as a more benign interpretation of the “literacy myth” than that articulated by historian Harvey Graff (1979) in the construction of program’s expansion during these eight years. In the projects on student writing, the creation oral history narratives, and in the collection of transcribed learning interviews of students and tutors my objective was as much to mirror a prototype of what a literacy program could become as it was to meet a particular on-site need. This prototype remained latent in the sense that anything like the “full” implications of such a model proved beyond our purview as well as any perceived mandate from the LVGH organizational leadership level. In this respect, an ambiguity accompanied much of our project focus, notwithstanding the expansive work we did accomplish, which did noteasily gel with concrete operational needs or stated organizational objectives in which projects were perceived as something “extra.”
Some of the agency staff argued that my intense project focus interfered with the more desirable good of competent daily operational management, which I should have concentrated on more than I did. I did not ignore this, but such work did not galvanize my most consuming interests in the latter years. Moreover, I did think the project work on writing, the oral histories, and the student learning interviews was of crucial significance which, without the focused attention paid to them, would not likely have been attended to, including the preservation of the historical memory of this period in the program’s life. Still, I experienced the sting of the accuracy of the criticism in that I utilized the project focus at least in part, as a form of compensation against my own perceived inadequacy in attempting to manage the more routine administrative responsibilities of the program. In this tension between my felt inadequacies and what might loosely referred to as my “genius,” the following passage from the neo-orthodox theologian Rienhold Niebuh spoke compellingly to my existential situation in 1995-1996:
The ambition of man to be something is always partly prompted by the fear of meaninglessness which threatens him by reason of the contingent character of his existence. His creativity is therefore always corrupted by some effort to overcome contingency by raising precisely what is contingent to absolute and unlimited dimensions. This effort, though universal, cannot be regarded as normative. It is always destructive. Yet obviously the destructive aspect of anxiety is so intimately involved in the creative aspects that there is no possibility of making a simple separation between them. The two are inextricably bound together by reason of man being anxious both to realize his unlimited possibilities and to overcome and to hide the dependent and contingent character of his existence (Niebuhr, cited in Rasmussen, 1991, pp. 140-141).
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