I spend quite a bit of time thinking about education. I also think, write and talk a lot about school, schools and schooling. I am a teacher. I am an educator. I am a coach. I am a parent. Not so long ago an idea reached me that offered surprising clarity: On my deathbed I will not be wishing I had fret more over my children’s education.
Rather, when that day arrives I may fret about their futures. About whether they know how much I love them. I will hope that they know how rich they have made my life. I will hope that they understand themselves to be capable and extraordinary human beings. I will pray that they have learned to trust others, how to reach out for help, how to care for and love others especially when loving is hard to do. I will fret that we have not had enough time to say all the things that we wanted to say to each other. I will fret over whether their passion for life and learning will be enough to see them through, in and on whatever paths they pursue. It is extremely unlikely that I will fret over how they did or are doing in school.
I have two sons: the first born is of age and can decide what kind of learning he would like to pursue and if that involves more formal schooling and a second who is at the beginning of his grade school career. So the question arises: If I know that I will not wish I had fret more over their school experience when my life is at its end, what does that mean for now?
It means that my most urgent purpose is to nurture the relationships which will sustain them for life.
It means that my eyes must be on the larger prize, even as my children go through school and further their education, year after year. It means that my most urgent purpose is to nurture the relationships which will sustain them for life. And that means not only their relationships to people. I must carefully attend to their relationships to learning as a joy, an avenue, a journey, an edifice, a toolbox, a treasure chest, a huge endowment, a foundation. I need to actively cultivate their relationships to the world of ideas, to the literacy and curiosity that this demands, to the arts in myriad forms, to the vast diversity of this earth we inhabit. I need to foster and champion their relationships to their unique strengths, interests and passions — providing them with evidence and experience that says, “this counts and is important to who you are and wish to be.”
And knowing full well that I will likely fall short of these lofty goals in small and larger ways, it becomes all the more important that I persist in reading to them night after night, day after day. That I continue to listen to their stories of adventure, danger, humor and drama drawn from the screen, the playground, the last good book or video game. That I watch them play outdoors, indoors, with friends, alone, on a PC, on a tablet. That we talk about what was scary or sad or disappointing or awesome. That I pay attention to their wishes as well as to their disdain. That I learn from them and allow them to instruct me. One goes to school and the other may be done with school; Homework is something they both know can be done, forgotten or ignored. What happened at school is sometimes newsworthy, other times less so. Our connections to each other are what matter now and throughout our journey. That is where my energy flows first and foremost.
When I extend this thinking from my sons to include my students and athletes, I arrive at similar conclusions. Whether or not they recall how to stand at bat or how to pass a soccer ball is not the ultimate point of my instruction. Rather, in how many ways can they learn to appreciate their unique bodies and capabilities? What are the things they look forward to doing with their bodies and minds in school, after school, in life? If they have cause to remember me at all as their teacher, let it be as someone who enjoyed sharing her enthusiasm for movement and people and community. Let them remember when and how they felt proud of themselves in Physical Education or on the track. Let them remember that movement was fun and challenging and something they kept doing ever after because they chose to do it. The relationships that we build, teacher — student, student- student, as well as the connection of students and teacher to the subject matter — can be such powerful sources of change, growth, and genuine education.
When it is time for us to leave this life behind, today’s piling on of curricular rigor will not save us or our children. What will make a positive difference, the positive difference, are the deliberately individual loving and caring relationships we build not only among the human parties involved but with the world as a limitless learning environment. Shaping, cultivating, harvesting and preserving the multiple learning landscapes we inhabit — this is the opportunity we share as teachers, as parents, as students, as learners and survivors to make our time together on this earth meaningful and worthy.