Prompted no doubt by recently meeting with school-choice advocates, I dreamed the other night that I stood in front of the group and said, “As teachers, we are stumbling down the dark corridor of education groping for the light switch that will illuminate learning for our students.” My subconscious must be working overtime, trying to digest my first year as a teacher, but as I brushed my teeth the next morning, I thought, hey, maybe my brain is onto something.
I’ve written a lot in this space about kids and grit and how to cultivate it and why. Go back and reread those once September rolls around. Today, on what feels like the first day of summer now that school is out, graduation is over, and—most importantly—the pool is open, I am inspired to write about something that feels the opposite of grit: wonder.
In discussing child rearing with my sister-in-law last weekend, I found myself grit-heavy, explaining why we make kids cry it out and pull weeds and take classes they hate. But mid-conversation it hit me that if she were to apply my advice perfectly, she would be a tyrant. Grit is good, but it doesn’t stand alone. Grit alone makes an ogre. Grit alone makes a workaholic. Grit alone is the graceless despairing of a workload that has no end or purpose. We need the grace of wonder to complement grit, to soften it and keep it from becoming tyranny.
Much of the year we are drill instructors yelling commands to floss behind the back teeth and eat the occasional carrot. For some, summer is just more of that. Scheduled lessons, tutoring, practice homework sheets, getting ahead on next year’s reading. We keep that up and we’re going to sidle up to the school curb next fall with bags under our eyes.
Not that we should let our kids’ brains atrophy over the break, but we need wonder. As one writer, speaking of today’s teens’ obsession with the screen, says, “They don’t know much about the art of life, and it’s misleading to call what they do with their freedom leisure. It’s diversion.”
Yes. A waste of time, most of us might say. But what alternatives are we offering? Are we modeling a life of magical wonder or only of mind-numbing, soul-sucking diversion?
Exhaustion is no excuse, although this aging body dearly wishes it were. Winston Churchill said that a change is as good as a rest; surely if he could paint and build brick walls in the midst of WWII, we can camp or fish or stargaze in the middle of our own little war-riddled lives, can’t we? One of my friends and his daughter are spending the summer reviewing all the pizza joints in the greater Wichita area. Weird, granted, but isn’t that wonder-full?
A review of Michael S. Roth’s new book, Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, reminds us that “liberal education … aims at serving the needs of the ‘whole person.’”
This is the lesson this worn-out teacher learned this year: For kids, for any of us, there is a time for grit, but, as my dreaming self would say, there is also a time for wonder. We just need to find the light switch.