I believe in the wisdom and power of children. On the wall in my office I have a poster: “Children should be seen – AND heard – AND listened to – AND believed”
For over 40 years I have made it my life to believe in children. They are the reason for my long career as an educator, and as I contemplate retirement, it is their insight and wisdom I will miss. They have been and continue to be powerful teachers.
Recently at a school assembly honoring my retirement, I spoke of the many lessons I had learned from the children gathered before me: lessons of joy and love of life, of caring and compassion, of curiosity and wonder, of patience and perseverance, of responsibility and respect, and lessons of fairness and forgiveness. These are not lessons of math and reading and writing one might typically expect at an elementary school, but the lessons of life. And children were my teachers.
On the morning after 9-11, Sammy, a 5 year-old from North Africa, came to find me on the playground. “We Muslim people are not all like that,” he informed me with an earnestness belying his age, “we want peace and not killing.”
Johanna, age 6, when visitors to our classroom asked why the children were all reading different books, she calmly looked up and replied: “ We’re all different people…”
When my son Nik was 4, we were visiting his grandparents, and his grandfather went off to make a speech. Nik asked me what Grandpa was going to talk about. “About how people should get along in the world,” I replied, using words I thought he would understand. Nik was quiet for a while, then asked: “Is Grandpa going to die?” I reassured him that while everyone dies sooner or later, I didn’t expect Grandpa would die any time soon. He was quiet again. “No, I mean is Grandpa going to get killed?” Startled, I asked what he meant, trying to understand what was behind his question. He knew: “Well, Martin Luther King said people should get along in the world and he got killed, and Jesus said people should get along in the world and he got killed, is Grandpa going to get killed for saying the same thing?” The insights of one so young are powerful lessons.
How can we speak of leaving no child behind, when we are hard pressed to keep up with them? We must instead listen to their wisdom and learn to honor all of who they are.
As a teacher of teachers, my heart never left the children, their wisdom, wit, insight and compassion give me hope and courage: courage to live and love with integrity, and hope that we might as a nation, as a world, tap the power of our children. Also on the wall of my office, a quote from the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire reminds me: “I will never stop loving children, I love life too much.”
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