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Friday, June 10, 2016

Life 101

Yesterday a young woman with a child in elementary school confided that in several weeks she will address a school study session about “failing schools” in Saint Petersburg.  The question to be addressed is “What characteristics do you want the teacher of your child to possess?” She asked me to think about it for several days and tell her what I thought.

This evening I heard Bill Clinton say in tribute to Muhammad Ali that early in the Champ’s life it seems he decided to write his own life’s story.  In those early years the story was probably not well mapped out in all details (an impossible task for anyone), but one thing was clear, he would determine how the story went and no one else–he would not live out his days as a victim, but would survive and prevail ultimately even as a healer.  This decision held even as his life became gripped by Parkinson’s disease.

If I wanted a teacher to instill one thing in my child, it would be this determination to be responsible for writing one’s own life’s story.  The question is, how can this dogged approach to life be communicated to a child?  The child must be viewed and treated with respect and generosity enabling the child to see themselves as equal and special despite all else in their lives that daily screams the deadening lie that they don’t matter, that they are not equal nor special, that they should sit in back of the room, just be quiet and vegetate.

The need for the teacher to connect positively with a child raises a host of other questions besides what kind of teacher is needed.  These questions address learning opportunities, environment and even the dignity and generosity proffered to teachers themselves.  But I must return to Muhammad Ali.  He determined to write his own life’s story no matter how challenging and hostile the environment.  And there lies the very reason why such an approach to life is essential.  For life on earth is no paradise, and our solemn duty is to grow strong, thrive, and take ownership of our own life’s stories amidst the challenges of stultifying imperfection.

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