What I believe has changed profoundly over the last couple of decades. It is said that if you truly want to understand life, spend time with young children or spend time with the dying. I’ve done a lot of both over the last fifteen years and found that the view, on either end, is much clearer than in the middle.
I used to be quite adept at blaming the problems of the world on “society.” I wasn’t quite sure who “society” was I just knew there had to be a large group of very misguided people somewhere to create such a mess.
As a teacher, and as a school principal, I saw my schools and the surrounding communities change tragically in a relatively short time. I saw gangs become commonplace and drugs become rampant. I met more and more young people who were dispirited, distressed or angry. I looked on in dismay and helplessly pointed my finger at society, with little effect.
Then one morning an ordinary event spurred a major shift in my consciousness. I began my morning in the usual fashion and stepped up to the bathroom mirror. What I saw reflected back at me was a forty year old, white, male school principal–and it hit me like a brick; if I didn’t represent “society” then who did?
I decided on that day to begin a search to find the causes of the ills plaguing our schools and our children. I really had no idea of what I was going to do. I just knew as an educator; as a man and a father, I wasn’t going to go to my deathbed not having tried.
Over the next few months I helped gather a small group of teachers, counselors and parents and we began a search that would last over a decade. We dove into the mud of education; working with young kids who were failing, expelled teens, gang members, students who really didn’t like school, or themselves for that matter. By looking through their eyes, we discovered more than we ever dreamed possible.
One of the first things the kids taught me was that the heart trumps the brain. Put another way, children don’t learn to read or write when they have unmet emotional issues in their lives; they’re not supposed to. I found that I didn’t need to be their father or mother, nor did I have to be their counselor, but I did need to give their emotions daily expression and I had to listen to them at times…with my heart.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that schooling children simply for the world of work short changes them…badly. Educating children for a happy, healthy and fully lived life is what true education is about and it involves looking inside at one’s own self as well as outside at the world around us.
I learned the shocking truth that education isn’t reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic as we’ve been led to believe. The 3 R’s are tools for education, not education itself. Somewhere along the way we forgot what the tools were for.
It breaks my heart when I see the headlines of yet another school shooting because the teens and children I worked with taught me how to stop violence. I learned how to create a loving, emotionally secure environment that increases curiosity and stops alienation. I learned how to give children and teens the tools needed to live their dreams; creating a world of their making, not ours.
Most importantly I reaffirmed my belief that how we educate our children–and how they educate us– will determine our society’s future. Mohandas Gandhi said; “If we truly want peace in the world, begin with the children.” I believe the time has come for this truth to be put to task.
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