“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” – Dr. Seuss
“Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?” ― Salvador Dalí
“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” – Pablo Picasso
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
“The only source of knowledge is experience. ”
“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”
“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character. ” – Albert Einstein
“Be sure to put your feet in the right place. Then stand firm”
“Whatever you are, be a good one.”
“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”
“No man is good enough to govern another man without the other’s consent.” – Abraham Lincoln
So, much like any awful millenial inspirational message, I have started with a plethora of quotes from very famous people who have changed the world. I do this because, I think, as people who have actually made differences in the world with their lives, effected social change, stood for values, and perhaps most importantly, inspired others to do the same, their words and messages are more important and effective than those with less amazing pedigrees to stand behind. In essence, what I mean to say, is that the source of one’s information is possibly one of the most important things that determines its quality, and one of the important tasks in life that one must take up, I think, is thus to choose good ones because ultimately what we are taught and choose to learn or believe is one of the most important determining factors in what we come to value and the lives we live. As has been said before, “The thought manifests as the word; The word manifests as the deed; The deed develops into habit; And habit hardens into character.” In particular, many people in life will lie to one, or tell them no, or try to limit their curiosity and interest and what they can and can not do, because ultimately they believe that their own thoughts, desires, and interests are more important than one’s own and that one must follow them, simply because they are in a position of power over one and have the ability to reward or punish one’s actions. The great thing, though, and the very important message that I want to pass on to my students, especially as I plan to continue teaching in under-served neighborhoods – to people of disprivilege, and ultimately those whose potentials and happiness society holds back through institutionally racist, classist, and overall systematically unequal practices and policies that make these people born in no way different than myself, have overall much worse lives, much less opportunity, much less freedom, and ultimately, thus, much less happiness – is that one does not have to listen. [Note, of course, this is obviously not a solution – MUUUUUUCH must be done besides, hopefully some of which will be addressed.] Happiness does not come from following other’s demanding wills, doing just exactly that which one is told, getting good grades, completing assigned tasks, or submitting instead of standing up for oneself. In fact, just the opposite – happiness, or at least the long-lasting intrinsic happiness that I have been able to experience in my life so far, comes from autonomy, belief in oneself, courageous resistance, and ultimately the ability to choose own’s one lifepath and actions for oneself. As Gandhi put it, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Happiness does not rely on other people (although obviously and certainly it can be vastly enhanced by healthy and mutual relationships with others; certainly my friends and family I’ve chosen have been just as or more important to me than anything that I have ever done or will do), other people do not know what is best for you, and that is something that you must decide, find out, and figure out for yourself, so, please do resist others when they falsely claim the opposite. Resist these unbelievably dumb and outrageous and unequal policies, rage against our society and make social betterment and change happen, and ultimately trust yourself, believe in yourself, and understand that you are the master of your own life, and no one can make you do that which you do not believe in. Gandhi did it, Picasso did it (and such unbelievably cool and life-affirming things as deciding to uproot himself on a whim and move Vallauris because he liked the pottery on display at somebody else’s stand, whose factory he then proceeded to work in), Albert Einstein did it, and Abraham Lincoln absolutely did it as well. Who should we trust more, when faced with adversity, those who are trying to hold us back, or Maya Angelou, who “learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me” and urges us to remember, “If we accept being talked to any kind of a way, then we are telling ourselves we are not quite worth the best”?
I think this is a good time to emphasize the last two quotes I put at the top, both as a reminder to teachers/educators/bosses/parents/anyone in a position of power, really, and equally as importantly as a validation of those who are under that power, “No man is good enough to govern another man without the other’s consent.” In particular, with respect to education, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” This is unbelievably important! Education should be free, pupils should be allowed to be free, everyone should be allowed to be free, and yet sadly, I think school can be and often is one of the places in life where this idea is followed the least.Honestly, right now with respect to this point, from my personal experience, I would say that an absolute shit job is being done. In the Chicago Public School that I served as a volunteer remedial tutor/extra support individual in, my evaluation of the teaching quality of the supervisor that I was put under, is that it is/was abysmal. Students were not in any way given the ability to think creatively, or independently, or even taught for understanding and comprehension, but rather made to sit and do absolutely nothing productive or aimed at teaching students material or, more importantly habits of mind, instead just things which were arbitrarily assigned to them. I have had countless students who did not know what multiplication or division meant or even represented, because they were never taught that crucially important fact, instead just told to repeatedly fill out worksheet upon worksheet of applying standardized algorithms/rules that they do not understand; not only did the teacher not attempt to explain this to the children, but rather would often literally tell students comments such as ‘just write ____ here’, ‘I don’t want none of this today’, ‘just be quiet/fill out the sheet.’ I will admit this is probably an extreme example meant to illustrate my point, and even with other teachers in the same “Level 1” underfunded 95% African-American and Latinx people school in Grand Boulevard, there probably was much better teaching going on…and especially, I would hope, there was much more respect for students, trust in them and their abilities, and ultimately care and focus on them as human beings and students instead of mindless, or drones to the school system and its tasks, or anything at all less than fully capable, important, and valued human beings. But as I hope everyone sees and agrees, the vast reason for the difference in achievement(s), whatever that may be defined to be, of certain people or groups of people is almost never intrinsic. The key factors that determine a successful life, at least ideally and I think in actual fact this does provide at least a decent approximation, are hard work, motivation, courage, standing behind one’s values, sticking up for oneself and being determined, contributing to something bigger, and providing a service to others. In particular, lots of these skills, when combined with knowledge, become absolutely powerful tools and ‘dangerous’ weapons to those who try to opposed them. The real problem is that lots of people are not, in fact, given the chance to be educated in such knowledge properly, are not taught the skills from this list which they lack by their schools (especially true for poorer or worse school systems), and furthermore can, in fact, have these wonderful positive qualities of theirs not valued or seen for their proper worth, and even perhaps discouraged and destroyed, or at least dulled down….
Oftentimes the first thing that I noticed when working with my students in this school was that they are absolutely shocked when I decided to actually take an interest in them and their learning. No one had asked them whether they had understood before, they did not know that they were supposed to be able to understand, that teaching is supposed to be focused on student learning, and that I cared about both their ability to voice their thoughts/concerns/life issues and what they really care about and are interested in instead of necessarily the school content material (if one can, in fact, call it that in this case of rote memorization and supervision like they were unworthy of an education) as well as that they learned about such fundamental math topics as fractions and division and the base 10 number system that almost everything in our world is expressed as. I’m guessing that these latter things almost everyone would agree pretty much impossible to live modern life without, and I am certainly not in any way saying (hell, nor would I even say it up to a much higher standard and level of math, as hopefully the fact that I have studied some more advanced mathematics means that I am actually interested in it and like it somewhat and think it can be useful as opposed to just that the force of habit bred into me by my schooling or parental and societal pressure to succeed in terms of landing a ‘good’ job or being able to show off my knowledge to others was so strong that I could not stop myself from just blindly following the path that was forced upon me) that students not learn these things and there is not a focus on that, even at a very early age. But, I think importantly, this is not the first thing nor most important thing that we should be teaching our students nor the #1 job of the teacher (despite the fact that as I have grown older, I have also tried to push myself to increase my content knowledge more and engage in mathematics much deeper, as I think that is, in fact, one of the ways that one’s self can feel this process of independent learning and discovery through doing and what the important tasks of the experimental scientist are). Rather, I think, the #1 thing needed in this school is not teaching for understanding, nor teachers with better content knowledge of mathematics (I’m sure my supervisor could do better if he tried), but, in fact much more empathy. How is a student expected to learn, think independently, do well on standardized tests (not that anyone should in any way feel obligated to do so, and this is only a road that leads to more and more competition and putting external motivations on people instead of allowing them to be free and come to life on their own terms), or even listen to their teachers, behave well, want to go to school, etc. if they are not given the proper doses of empathy, respect, trust, and encouragement that they need? Oftentimes modern life in a late capitalist society can be discouraging for any one, let alone imagine what children in these situations have to deal with – REAL problems that many people cannot possibly fathom (while for others, not fathoming them is a dream, wish, and desire that is never possible because, in fact, that is their daily life). I guarantee you from my own life experience that I would absolutely trade any content knowledge or learning that I have ever experienced (although I have learned a lot, and had many doors both mentally and opportunity-wise opened for me, and experienced a lot more than I ever could have possibly fathomed solely by working on my own or something like that…) for a constant supply of food, safety and security in my neighborhood and home life, the ability to know people cared about me, love and positive relationships with others, and a belief that the things that I do in life actually benefit myself and others if any of these needs of mine were not being met by my life situation. CLEARLY these are more important and as somebody who has struggled with depression before, I can say confidently that if I had done much less learning and focused on my academics or extracurriculars societal pressures less and tried to repair or actually deal with more directly and quickly the problems I have faced and relationships that did not meet my needs, I would be much happier than I am now and would have gotten to my current level of happiness much faster than I did. That is what matters, not whether or not you can prove some statement about the density of ball-packing in a non-Euclidean Geometry, which note is not the world we live in, nor even (although it is much better) whether you have read the latest research or new trend in education reform about how this ‘technique’ or method or belief that somebody else has about what is best for (your) students, despite never even having met them, knowing the life situations they are in, what the interests are and what they want out of life, let alone school are. Human connection, human empathy and knowing one’s students, knowing how to help them, what kind of help they need, which of their needs aren’t being met, and what their desires for the ways in which they want to unleash the motivation, creativity, and curiosity they naturally have in them. People are what matter, not assignments, nor even content material. Get back to the human element, educate people and allow them to be free and have their needs met, this seems like the easiest and most fundamental thing to deal with in education, it is absolutely shocking to me that this is given such a low priority as it is. Human beings matter, we are more than what we learn, we are more than what we do, we are intrinsically valuable and everyone has their own gifts and will almost universally be fine and come to understand themselves and how they can contribute to something greater and lead a life of service, joy, and happiness if ultimately we meet these needs which shockingly we do not. I am not even suggesting that we have a content knowledge problem, that teachers need to be educated better with respect to content (although I think that is true, eventually, and some of the best ‘teaching teaching’/’learning teaching’ this I have ever experienced mainly focused on this), but rather, first and foremost, let’s get people who respect these students more, care about their jobs, and want to help human beings grow and understand their worlds better and THEN once we’ve even met this fundamental human need and building block of any educational activity whatsoever, we absolutely can and should focus on the quality of the content material and mathematical discourse and all of that…