Quote of the Day:
“I am a part of all that I have met.” –Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses
My high school French teacher, Alice Hammond, retired this week after a twenty-eight year career. She alerted many of us via her Facebook status update. She also said that her greatest goal as an educator was to instill a sense of respect for different people, opinions and cultures. As many of you know, TB puts great stock in milestones and retirement is a big one. But I have been thinking about what Alice wrote for three days not only because I am fascinated with how one puts a career into perspective in a single sentence, but even more because I was struck by the depth, complexity and wisdom of her hopes of what she had accomplished.
To start with, how can a teacher know the impact she has had? Over the course of twenty-eight years, innumerable kids have been influenced to some degree by her. After a year, maybe two, a great diaspora occurs and she will never hear anything about most of them again. But seeing the results, I suppose, is not the point of teaching. The point is merely to equip the student so that results become more likely.
Alice is a foreign language specialist so in one way it seems natural that respect for cultures outside our own would be a focus for her. Her words though, seemed calculated to go beyond such a limited goal as having Americans appreciate the French. I cannot be certain this was her intent; it is my interpretation however that by instilling an appreciation for the French culture she was charged with teaching that a student must at the same time learn to look at a person, event, or idea from a different perspective than what the conformist and parochial culture we have been reared in usually demands.
Not being an educator, but having opinions nonetheless, I have long held that the two great deficiencies in American education have been our absolute failure to teach foreign language and a failure to teach critical reading and reasoning. I believe children should be instructed in a foreign language beginning in kindergarten and continuing through college. Why is it that kids in Europe, Asia, and Africa learn English in such great numbers but in America we….well, we barely learn English ourselves? It gives them a great advantage over us in the world marketplace. I think what Alice tried to do over her career goes back even one step further than what I have always wanted. If a child is taught to respect the ideas of someone from a culture different from his own, he will then be impelled to learn how to communicate with those people. To understand them he will be forced to extend his inquiries beyond clichés and stereotypes, buzz words and preconceived notions. And once this skill is learned, the former student will use it in every facet of his life. And maybe if a lot more teachers would adopt this ultimate career goal, and parents too, maybe we can get our own country communicating among ourselves again.
Bonus Quote of the Day: