Transforming Education—March 2017

If you’re always racing to the next moment,
what happens to the one you’re in?

A collision of events and observations this month is summed up in this quote. It began with a conversation I had with a friend whose child is in the final stage of the college selection process. The angst of the parent was about what their child would major in and what the job market may be in four years. Having had two children who have completed college, and given my day job, my advice was to make sure their child selected the school that felt like the best fit, encourage them to enter as an exploratory student, and to give them time to find their passion. Only a week earlier I had a young man in my office, a senior majoring in business, telling me he wished he could start over in college because he had discovered a passion for teaching. He shared he had felt the pressure to select a major early and that his parents had emphasized it needed to be a career that would provide a sound financial future. What had been the hurry to make an early decision, racing through the moments of college life without fully embracing the current moment?

A few days later I received an article about the urgency of incorporating college and career readiness standards into the elementary curriculum. James L. Hymes, considered to be a founding father of early childhood education in America, wrote the seminal text Teaching Children Under Six. Over 50 years ago, Hymes challenged the concept of “getting children ready” in the early childhood years. He asked why it is that when a child is four years old the common education practices are to get the child ready to be five years old. Why is it we don’t celebrate all of the wonder of being four, offering experiences for children to learn, realizing they will become five years old on their own? Why is it in American culture we do not appreciate all that each age offers? Why can’t we celebrate, nurture, and encourage without a goal of hurrying to be the next age?

Two days after receiving the article, I began reading the fourth book written by Swedish author Fredrik Backman. In his recent novella, And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, the following dialogue between the Grandpa (G) and grandson Noah (N) reminded me of how Hymes’ message resonates today.

He always wants to know everything about school, but not like other adults, who only want to know if Noah is behaving. Grandpa wants to know if the school is behaving. It hardly ever is.

N: Our teacher made us write a story about what we want to be when we’re big.

G: What did you write?

N: I wrote that I wanted to concentrate on being little first.

G: That’s a very good answer.

N: Isn’t it? I would rather be old than a grown-up. All grown-ups are angry; it’s just children and old people who laugh.

G: Did you write that?

N: Yes.

G: What did your teacher say?

N: She said I hadn’t understood the task.

G: And what did you say?

N: I said she hadn’t understood my answer.

The last collision in the series of events was one that shook me to my core and reminded me of the preciousness of each moment of each day. This month’s column is dedicated to the life and memory of Jackie Kleine Watts, COE Butler 2007 graduate. Jackie lost her life on March 4 as she tried to rescue a lost dog. Her love for animals was immense and her willingness to help others, even those she never met, were qualities to be admired and respected. I was fortunate to see Jackie a few months ago when we bumped into one another at a restaurant. I was delighted to see her and to catch up. She showed me pictures of her pets and we took a photo together. She shared how much she loved her work as an esthetician at an upscale hotel. She asked me if I was disappointed that she was not using her teaching degree. My reply was education happens in many places and in many ways and that the ultimate goal I have for every student is to find happiness. It gives me comfort knowing that she was genuinely happy—she had reached the goal of contentment and peacefulness. Jackie did not race from moment to moment but rather lived each moment fully. She reminded me that life is NOT about what the person will do but rather who they will become. In honor of Jackie, I ask you to pause, be thankful, and live fully every moment. Tomorrow will arrive all on its own.

Until next month,

Dr. Ena Shelley
Dean, College of Education

Editor’s Note: In our ongoing quest to highlight best practices in teaching, we present Brandie Oliver. Oliver is an expert in bullying prevention.