I’m fixing my bike up again and preparing to ride it to school each day after coming to terms with my own contradictions between what I value and what I tell my own children. I’m realizing that I can’t talk about healthy choices, eco-friendly decisions, paying attention to the community or staying within a budget while I choose to stay in a steel cocoon fueled by a non-renewable resource.
It’s part of a longer process that my wife began a few years back of examining what we value and how we live. It started with getting to know our neighbors, growing a garden, composting, switching to cloth diapers and hanging clothes on a line. It’s expanded to raising chickens, rethinking our energy use and being intentional about bringing our kids into the dialog.
This isn’t to say that we have it all figured out or that we have shifted into a fanatical dogma. Perhaps the greatest gift our children will receive in this dialog is that of freedom and humility. We openly admit that our actions will not always fit our values and that the journey will include as many failures as successes.
So, it has me thinking about my classroom. Can I tell my students that math is important and yet avoid thinking mathematically in life? Can I tell my students to be original and develop their own philosophy and stay in a silent, moderate middle on the core issues I care about? Can I tell my students to think critically about the role of technology and then use the television as a babysitter? Can I tell students that they need to work hard, while I stuff the trash can with student work? Can I tell students that cooperative learning is important while I engage in staff lounge gossip?
Go back for awhile, behind the factory, buried within the philosophy that once flowered before the industrial pavement of compulsory schooling. Regardless of the educational stream or the ideology that shaped it, there’s a notion that a teacher’s value depends upon how he or she lives. Whether it was the expert craftsman teaching an apprentice, the informal network of family or the formal, philosophical liberal arts education, people expected teachers to live out the philosophy that they taught.
I realize that the past isn’t always so glorious. The apprenticeship model often turned to indentured servitude and abuse and the liberal arts education often became so elitist and abstract that it lacked the vitality of true education. Yet, if we want true reform, this might be a value of the past that we need to reconsider.
Ultimately, if we want to talk about holistic education and life-long learning, it has to begin with educators. This isn’t to suggest that we live perfect, moral lives or that we use our personal life as some type of a platform for our educational philosophy. The process has to be humble and organic. However, if we aren’t living the values we are teaching, students will ultimately recognize it as a slick, empty counterfeit.