“Megan, you can be you. It’s okay.”
I probably don’t remember the first time I heard those words. But I do remember the first time I remember hearing those words. I had just arrived home from ballet practice and was with my father, wearing a pink tutu and soccer cleats, practicing kicking a football through imaginary goal posts in the front yard of my childhood home. At some point mid-practice, a few neighborhood friends passed by on their bikes and I immediately felt self-conscious. My father, who undoubtedly recognized my discomfort, uttered those words and not only reassured me that it was okay, but in those seven simple words, he carefully honored my strengths, my passions, and my uniqueness.
Yesterday, I was reminded of this moment, a distant memory buried deep within the vast amount of childhood memories, while reading Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. In what I suspect is a major turning point in Verghese’s novel, the narrator (Marion) gives voice to an important moment in his childhood — a moment which was certainly formative in terms of his strengths, his passions, and his uniqueness.
Looking back I realize Ghosh saved me when he called me to feel Demisse’s pulse. My mother was dead, and my father a ghost; increasingly I felt disconnected from Shiva and Helma, and guilty for feeling that way. Ghosh, in giving me the stethoscope, was saying, “Marion, you can be you. It’s okay.” He invited me to a world that wasn’t secret, but it was well hidden. You needed a guide. You had to know what to look for, but also how to look. You had to exert yourself to see this world. But if you did, if you had that kind of curiosity, if you had an innate interest in the welfare of your fellow human beings, and if you went through that open door, a strange thing happened: you left your petty troubles on the threshold. It could be addictive.
As educators, what can we learn from Marion’s words in Cutting for Stone?
First, we must be able to convey to students that “you can be you…it’s okay.” Even though I am on vacation, I have loved reading the tweets and blog posts coming from Klingenstein’s Summer Institute for Early Career Teachers (#klingsi11). From the blog of Peyten Dobbs (@epdobbs), Superfluous Thoughts, you’d never guess that she was an early career teacher. In a recent post about honoring the uniqueness of every individual, she writes:
Irrespective of what I or others feel about homosexuality, gay marriage, or LGBT in general, the guiding principal of teaching is that I must validate all of my students. I must foster a safe place for them to learn in my classroom and in my school. This is true whether they are LGBT, straight, black, white, asian, female, male, atheist or religious, rich or poor. My job is to help students foster their own identities, to know that they are respected, and to learn to respect others. (you can read the full post here)
Her post and tweets related to this issue caught the attention of a student from her school (who is also on summer vacation), who responded with a powerful comment conveyed in (impressively!) less than 140 characters:
It is essential that we establish an ethic of care in schools. Nel Noddings conveys in a bit more detail what @TaraWestminster’s tweet suggested. Noddings writes, “As we build an ethic on caring and as we examine education under its guidance, we shall see that the greatest obligation of educators, inside and outside formal schooling, is to nurture the ethical ideals of those with whom they come in contact.”
As educators, I firmly believe that we must provide the time and space to convey to students that “you can be you…it’s okay.”
A second takeaway from Marion’s words in Cutting for Stone is that we, as educators, must create a culture within our schools which honors transparency and collaboration in the learning process. We must be models. And we must recognize that for some (both adults and children), the need/importance for transparency and collaboration is not always so evident. After Marion is given the stethoscope, he remarks that Ghosh “invited me to a world that wasn’t secret, but it was well hidden. You needed a guide. You had to know what to look for, but also how to look. You had to exert yourself to see this world.” In my personal growth as a learner over the past two years, I have seen first-hand that the tools for learning are abundant (and those tools can be as technological as Twitter or as basic as those face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues). Sometimes introduction to the tool is sufficient for furthering my learning. Sometimes I need more than an introduction. Sometimes I need an attentive and well-versed guide to take me through various steps of the learning process.
For Marion, the tool was the stethoscope. Ghosh was the guide who was willing to open the door to further learning opportunities (and for Marion, those learning opportunities were addictive). Certainly, both (the tools and the guiding process) are important, but we must always keep in mind the balance that Gardner references in the image at the top of this post. If it is true that “much of education today is monumentally ineffective.” And that “all too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.” Then how do we, as educators, strike a healthy balance?
For the adult learners, I believe that the first step is that we need to be as transparent and collaborative as we possibly can. Then, we need to inspire the learners in our care. I love what my @PrototypeCamp friends have to say:
First, let us open the door to allow students to understand that “it’s okay…you can be you.” Then, let us help them embrace learning (because their life does depend on it) by helping them become their own unapologetic learning advocates who will ultimately open doors for others and become addicted to opportunities for learning even if the absence of the tool or the guide.