Mr. R.

by beccaborrelli


El Retrarto De Las. Shinique Smith. 2008

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” — Albert Einstein

When I was younger, I hostessed at a chic little restaurant to supplement my teaching salary. The owner/chef established a measure of local celebrity onto Cleveland’s chain-saturated restaurant scene. The dark wood interior, beautiful- to-look-at wait staff, as well as a prime location in Cleveland’s oldest neighborhood, secured its standing as one of the hottest spots to eat.

Working for a chef of such high social caliber was intimidating to say the least. I suspect he liked me well enough until the day I accidentally gave an 80,000 dollar fur coat to the wrong patron. He was never quite as friendly to me after that- and I can’t say I blamed him.

***

One quiet Monday evening… 10 covers on the books… his father arrived for dinner. A friendly, talkative man- he exuberantly told the manager and I he was having a date with a lady friend. I sat him at the restaurant’s prime table, and returned to my post.

An hour passed and it became apparent his date was not showing up. The manager approached:

“If you would please consider having dinner with Mr R. I will watch the host stand. Dinner will be on us.”

How could I refuse.

He was the type of man who instantly put others at ease. His charisma had been passed down to his son, who had a way of making each guest feel as if they were the single most special person to his business. While this charisma was not reserved for hostesses who played handout with very expensive minks… his father paid such erroneous behavior no mind.

***

My first day teaching in 2005… the first class of the day with six year olds… I did a lesson on “style.”

Everyone has their own style. When you are your true self- that is your style. Let’s look at your friend’s drawings and see if we can pick out some first grade style….

Later the next day, a fourth grade teacher arrived at my room. Her son had been in that class, and told her all about style the prior evening. I’m ashamed to admit I had no idea he had absorbed any of my lesson.

Knowing what children take away from school is a rare blessing. Children absorb the things they need for a personal life journey. The things that interest them. The things that have meaning. We will not always know what is meaningful for children… nor are we meant to… that is their job. Of course they will also remember the things that are pounded in by an authoritative hammer. That much is certain.

***

After a few glasses of wine Mr. R. began to reminisce about his late wife. I remembered thinking: I hope one day, my husband loves me this much.

“If you don’t remember anything else B, let me tell you this: Relationships are all that matter in this world. There’s not much else. Not money, not ambition, not your appearance… just your relationships. Live with that priority, and you will never be sad a day in your life.”

Maybe it was because he was the father of the most intimidating boss I ever worked for. Maybe it was because he asked questions and listened intently to a 25 year old girl, as if I had been the First Lady. Maybe it was the 2 glasses of pinot noir I drank. Maybe it was all of the above.

Whatever the reason, just like many of my students, he changed my life in a way that he will never know.

***

Einstein had it right.

A deeply meaningful education cannot happen in a factory school model.

It cannot happen on ditto sheets. At assemblies. On state tests. In quiet lines.

It cannot even happen in my art room.

Oh, there are tremendous teachers who fight a hard, honorable battle. The teachers who make learning less of a chore, and more of an adventure. The teachers who connect students to themselves, to each other, to the world. The teachers who explode with life, who love imperfect children. The teachers who fertilize and nurture passionate curiosity that is the birthright of all humans. Yet in spite of this, I am beginning to suspect a factory model will never allow teachers to truly win such a battle.

The factory is about production. It cannot be about much more.

Real education is not when you apply “X, Y, and Z” onto a child and out pops learning like a recipe in a kitchen.

Children must survey information, happenings, experiences, moments, conversations, creations, and problems of their lives… then sort from this cornucopia of input the tidbits that serve them best… what propels them down the life path of their choosing… what will become the tools used to create a life of their dreams.

For this reason teachers are everywhere.

Classroom extends beyond walls into the whole wide world.

Even the most unassuming dinner on a drizzly Monday can turn into a lesson worthy of taking to the grave.

***

I do not purport that reading, writing and mathematics weren’t important in my life. I do not mean to suggest I was/am not eternally grateful to have been born in a country where a free education is offered to all children no matter what socio-economic status they are born into. I realize the ability to write on this blog started with ditto sheets in Kindergarten… carefully tracing letters over dotted guide-lines.

Yet I do not remember those lessons.

What I do remember is my Kindergarten teacher taking me and three other children to McDonald’s. We earned a certain number of gold stickers or some other arbitrary achievement. I remember thinking how much I loved her. I remember marveling that we were special enough to spend her own money on happy meals.

Such a feeling is education that goes beyond schooling.

Incorporating such an idea to make learning meaningful is easy for a five year old to understand.

Harder for adults.

And I’m now discovering, nearly impossible for governments.

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