Sunday, October 2, 2011

Of Dandelions and Lions

The staying power of the teaching profession resides in this appeal:  that the teacher continues to learn along with the child in all of us.  When a child brings that adult a sparkling dandelion, the teacher rejoices that this youngster is doing more than playing fetch.  That child trusts the teacher to explain the wonders of the world, and the teacher knows she will fail to explain God, death, etc.
Yet s/he will struggle on along with Walt Whitman, who confessed in Part VI of his immortal poem:
"A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;

How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is, any more than he."
S/he will struggle along with Socrates, too, who also confessed in Plato’s Apology:  “And this I know:  that I know nothing.”
S/he will see in those bright faces full of wonder and inquiry the promise even of Christ, who said in Matthew 19:14:  “Let the little children come unto me…for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
In such appropriate awe lies the beginning of all the sciences, arts, and humility which humans ever know.  If they retain that awe, their lives lie before them—and the teacher witnesses the cosmos opening in their stunned eyes.  If their eyes close in resignation and defeat, the teacher must search for the child again, and then s/he will bring the dandelion—or leaves of grass—and ask in turn:  “What is this?” 
Like Socrates and Christ, too, Walt Whitman works by analogy to arrive at workable hypotheses:
"I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.
Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord….
Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation." 
As the search continues, the seeker returns to the beginning:  to spring and the eternal quest for understanding which renders life a continuous miracle.  Each time a child shrieks with delight:  “I get it!” or dumbfounds an instructor with the simplest question, such as “What is a fact?” then Athens and Avon begin again, too. 
Faced with the cosmos, all of us are beginners.  When we forget this requirement for learning, we slouch, and the world turns gray.  But it is the miracle of teaching that sets that wheel of inquiry spinning, and insists there is—and will always be—more, more, more to learn.  As teachers convey this principle to their charges, they become the dandelion, the leaves, the very wind which brings blooms and fruit where we least expect them.