Transforming Education—April 2017


In time of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.
—Fred Rogers

This column is dedicated to children of all ages and the peacemakers in the world. Only a few weeks ago an act of terrorism occurred in Stockholm, Sweden. This followed on the heels of horrific incidents in Syria. The turmoil in the world demands that we embrace the words of Mr. Rogers as educators, parents, and as global citizens.

My dear friend and colleague, Angelica Granqvist, sent me a text on April 7 to let me know that she and her family were safe in their homeland of Sweden. Last May I had the honor of traveling to Sweden to learn from Angelica and her peers as fellow educators. In her school, Vallentuna Gymnasium, I met students from many countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. They had to master the Swedish language first and then English. I was touched to hear the phrase “newly arrived” used rather than “immigrant.” What I observed was a thriving community of high school students who embodied the wisdom of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” I had the opportunity to travel with Angelica to other cities as well as Gotland Island in the Baltic Sea. I found the Swedes to be kind and open and the pace of life to be peaceful.

Unfortunately their peace has now been disrupted by a senseless act. But it appears the Swedes are using their ears and hearts as they embrace the questions in this situation. Swedes have placed mounds of flowers and thousands joined hands in a public gathering. Prime Minister Stefan Lofven stated, “This shows that there is strength in Sweden that nobody can take away from us.” I read an interview of a 75-year-old Swedish woman who said maybe there is hope in this tragedy so that “fellow Swedes would become even more open and welcoming.” She is keeping her heart and mind open in the midst of the questions that surround a tragedy.

This May I will return to Sweden—this time with a large group of Butler University faculty. We must continue to realize the importance of the connections across the world, our role as peacemakers, and how education is the way to change the world. While we must take precautions, we cannot live our lives in fear. As adults we must continue to help our students ask the questions knowing that there are many answers, not just one. Sadly the days of the Mister Rogers Neighborhood show are in the past, but his wisdom lives on. Perhaps introducing the younger generation to him on Google would be worthy! As our students and children see the world events play out on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, they could frame it as Mister Rogers did: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” May we each work to help heal the world with our ears and hearts open always.

Dr. Ena Shelley
Dean, College of Education