The second characteristic was that all teachers were not only well informed, they related what they knew to the readiness of students. Third, all the great teachers that I had created active, not passive, learning in the classrooms. Very occasionally they became learners while the students became the teacher. But that still didn’t make these teachers truly great. It occurred to me that the most influential teachers that I had were the ones who were authentic and honest and open human beings, and they taught not only their subjects, they taught themselves. They were willing to be vulnerable; they laughed, they cried, they said that “I don’t know”, and as I observed them I was observing not just the content to be covered but I observed the quality of their lives. Values are taught, in my opinion, most especially by the integrity and the honest and the openness and the authenticity of the teacher. But I do think values also can be taught through service and I do believe that all students should asked to complete a community service project in order to demonstrate that learning has a practical and applied side that must be tested. I’d like to see all students complete a service project in day-care centers or in retirement villages or in tutoring other children in the school, since obviously one way to learn and perhaps the best way, is to try to teach. Martin Luther King said on one occasion, that everyone can be great because everyone can serve, and I’m convinced that the young people of this country are ready to be inspired by a larger vision.
What then, and now I come to the final question once again, what then does it mean to be an educated person? It means respecting the miracle of life. It means being empowered in the use of language. It means responding aesthetically to the aesthetic. Being truly educated means understanding our membership in groups and institutions. It means having reverence for the natural world. It means affirming the dignity of work and above all, being an educated person means being guided by values and beliefs and connecting the lessons of the classroom to the realities of life.
These are the core competencies that I believe should replace the old Carnegie units, and all of this can be accomplished as the schools focus not on seat-time but on students in classrooms that are true communities of learning. I know how idealistic it may sound, but it is my urgent hope that in the century ahead students in the nation’s schools will be judged, not by their performance on a single test, but by the quality of their lives and by the hopefulness of their potential. It is my hope that students in classrooms of tomorrow will be encouraged to be creative, not conforming and learn to cooperate rather than compete. It is my abiding hope that students in our schools will begin to see the world whole, and be inspired both by the beauty as well as the challenges of the world around them, and above all it is my urgent prayer that Julie, my five year old granddaughter who lives in Princeton, and David, her five year old cousin in Belize, along with all the other children on this planet will grow up knowing down deep inside that they are truly members of the same human family to which we are all inextricably connected.
Fifty years ago Mark Van Doren wrote that the connectiveness of things is what the educator contemplates to the limit of his capacity, and Van Doren concluded by saying students who can begin early in life to see things as connected have begun the life of learning and this, it seems to me, is what being an educated person is all about.
I notice in your program that the theme of this Conference is not only Communities of Learning but a commitment to the World’s children, and in conclusion I thought I might mention a prayer that was sent to me by Marian Wright Edelman that seemed to fit, with some moderation, the conference theme that launches this 50th Convention. The prayer reads:
“Dear Lord, we pray for children who cannot find their shoes and we also pray for those who have no shoes. We pray for children who squirm in church and synagogue, who eat dessert before dinner and who never pick up their own rooms. We also pray for children who rarely see a doctor, who never see a dentist and who have no rooms to pick up, and whose pictures are not on anybody’s dresser. Dear Lord, we pray for children who are always loved and we especially pray for children who will grasp the hand of anyone kind enough to hold them.”
I suggest then that our obligation in the century ahead is to commit ourselves, not just to build better schools, not just to build a better world, but above all to build a better climate for our children …
© 1998 The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, reprinted with permission.