I received a message from an education major at the University of South Florida last week. With great sincerity, she wanted to know if I could show her where and how to start developing a philosophy of education and principles of teaching. I have to admit that it has taken me a week to begin coming up with a response. In fact, it has thrown me for a loop during this past week. I’ve thought of little else. I must have written and rewritten my response a proverbial hundred times. Each time I finished, my head yelled out,”boy, that’s a great answer. Neat stuff.” Then, I would erased it after I heard a louder “cliche” and a still louder and dismal “yuk” as the only reveiws my heart could muster.
I thought you might be interested in my initial answer which I hope will stimulate an on-going conversation with her. I told her that I personally have difficulty summing up my life at the tender age of 56 and with a younger spirit of about 18 with a fixed philosophy or set of principles. I’ve done that on occasion, but never as something chiseled on a tombstone. I’ll let other people sum up things as a eulogy if I’m worth one. Right now there’s a lot more inner journey to travel. Sure, every now and then I take stock I admit that I am usually satisfied with my new-found outlook and proud of my recent achievements–for about an hour or so when I feel the cement around me feet start to harden. Then, a restlessness begins to set in, an awareness stirs telling me that it’s not yet over; I begin to look towards the horizon; I start racheting things up a notch or two, and start to move on.
I told this student that I do know that whatever outlook her journey moves towards, however the way of that journey, that she look for guidance first and lastly to her heart rather than her head or technique. I say that because I don’t think the problem with most of us educators and academicians is our knowledge, talent, ability, or potental. And I don’t think there is any one best classroom technique. The real problem is that too many educators are into their heads and books and resumes more than they are in their hearts and spirit and other people, and too often their heads are disconnected from their hearts depriving them of the dynamos of passion and committment. The result is a very lifeless, spiritless, unenjoyable, laughless, painful, unauthentic, dour classroom experience.
The simple truth is that the head and intellect need the heart and emotion. The head may do the doing, but it’s the heart that does the steering, that places a value on what the head does or wants to do–or does not do. They’re connected to each other no less than the foot bone is connected to the ankle bone however many educators may wish or pontificate to the contrary. Without the fulness of dreams and hopes, teaching goes flat. But, dreams and hopes can take a lot of gas out of you, and passion is the emotional fuel you need to achieve your dreams. I know of no master craftsman and artist who appeared on the scene passionless and complete; who had not tried and fail, tried again and fail, tried once again and failed; who has not endured, groped, strained, suffered, hesitated, doubted, questioned, second-guessed. I don’t know of one master who didn’t pick up a chisel, paint brush, pen, baton, test tube, or whatever for the first time. They all were indebted to others and reached deadends before they evolved into themselves and we became indebted to them. Passion is the stuff that perseverence is made of. It is the deep pool within each of ourselves that when discovered and tapped provides the power, that drives us. Take away the essential, energizing passion–the laughter and tears, the heat, the excitement, the vibrancy, the vitality, the full spectrum of feeling–for who you are and your discipline and what you do and for those around you, and what you do goes limp and comes to both a figurative and literal heartless, sputtering halt.
Committment is no less important, for it gives direction and guidance and meaning and purpose to your passion. It is the stuff of values and vision. Committment gives us the reason of why we are here and how we will leave the world behind. If you fail to commit to your craft and your discipline and most importantly to your fellow human beings, you commit to failure. More importantly, it is committment that gets you ready to pay the price. It is committment that demands nothing less than authenticity, the strength and courage to stick your neck out. Once you’ve come out from the closet, taken off the mask, stopped lurking, you can’t go back in; you can’t be quiet; you can’t hide. You’re in full view, out in the open for all to see and you’ve got to deliver. That’s the price of committment.
My initial difficulty was to find a way of telling this student where to start finding her philosophy of education, where to start, what road to take while getting her to understand that it must be her philosophy and her journey and her road. I mean the collection of Random Thoughts she has read on the internet, at the web page, and in the published volumes that I have shared is not something–some theory or abstraction–that I have written. It is something I have recorded. What she read, I am always carefully thinking about and planning it; I am always prayerfully and passionately practicing it; I am always darefully and committedly living it. It is my life. It is me! And therein lies the beginning of my answers to her questions. Or, actually the posing of my questions in answer to her questions.
I’m not a Bible thumper, but before anyone starts to plan their life’s work in education–or anything else for that matter–he or she should pick up a copy of the Holy Scriptures and read the first line of Proverbs 23:7. It is the best beginning answer I have to questions such as hers. It tells us all where we have to start and continue our journey, how to start developing our values and vision, where we have to look closest in order to see the farthest and clearest.
Make it a good day.