Learning and Reality

Last summer I realized that one of my biggest frustrations about classroom teaching was that students never got to see the "real" me.  When I teach piano or tutor outside of school, I am relaxed, funny, and helpful all at once.  In the classroom, I'm so besieged by learning goals and grading standards that I often feel I don't have time to connect with my students on a personal level, which is crucial to their being able to learn from me.  So this year, as a partial solution, I've had them studying the cornerstones of the Music Mind Games, which I consider to be the core of my educational philosophy. Each month we examine a different one: I ask them to reflect on it and we have a discussion.  Then I ask them how it applies to their education.  This month we studied the first one, "You are brilliant and can learn anything."

My Literature students were surprisingly positive about it, though a little formulaic -- most had something to offer along the lines of "I know can do anything if I put my mind to it."  Their observations about teaching were touchingly optimistic, too: one said that teachers must believe that students are brilliant, or they couldn't be teachers in the first place.  I was glad she'd never seen evidence to contradict that statement.

During our discussion, I noticed that one student, usually one of my most vocal, was pointedly silent.  As I collected the responses, she asked if she had to put her name on hers.  I considered arguing that if everyone else did and she didn't, I'd still know who she was, or admitting that I knew her handwriting well by now, but settled for, "Yes, so that I can give you credit for completing the assignment."  So, of course, I read hers first:
Now, I'm sure you want to look at these papers and amuse yourself over our incredible self-confidence, but pardon me if I shatter any delusions and state that this is entirely untrue. Not to argue technicalities, but I shall never understand the meaning of life. Also, more generally, I know that there are quite a few things I cannot learn. Just as my grandmother will never really understand her computer, I realize that there are some things that will never be clear to my brain. It disturbs me that people are so prideful as to assume that they are omniscient.

A note on teachers: I take everything with a grain of salt. First of all, it tastes better that way (ha, ha). Really, though, I have a deep suspicion of compliments and such thanks to having received too many in my life for them to be true.

I thought about it for a couple of days and then wrote this in response:
Dear Andi,

Thank you for your honesty in responding to this question, and for your maturity in recognizing that such a categorical statement should rightly be regarded with skepticism.  If by "the meaning of life" you mean the purpose behind each of the events that befall us, then yes, there is no way any of us will ever understand it.  But if you mean uncovering a purpose and direction for your own existence, then yes, I firmly believe you can and should work toward this end, and with God's help I pray you will reach it.

Sadly, none of us will ever have the time and energy to learn all we want to learn, so we must settle for whatever is most important to us.   But at this point in your life, Andi, I wouldn't be so quick to rule anything out.  Focus your energy on creating beautiful drawings and stories if you want, since you have talent in those areas.  Or study quantum physics if it interests you.  I'm not saying you should learn everything; I'm saying you can learn anything if you have a passion for it.

Most people (and nearly all women) have difficulty accepting compliments.  I am among them.  However, the gracious and polite thing to do is simply to say "thank you," and to accept that the person paying the compliment truly means it.  Even if you don't agree, you should be honored to receive the goodwill that comes from the bottom of another's heart.

Mrs. Lowe