Even the poor ought to endeavour as best they can to provide the best education for their children. ~Plutarch MOR 1 P41.
Education must provide a moral character to students. Education must improve how the mind reasons with challenges that cannot be written in textbooks. Teachers must be men and women who are of strong moral character and who can be trusted with the future. As the Ontario government announces its plan to extend the time spent in teacher education programs so as to reduce the number of aspiring teachers in an oversupplied system, it misses an opportunity to improve the education system. We train too many people in a pivotal profession who have no place being in front of children. We have forgotten the value of an exceptional teacher; we focus on delivering content like we deliver hamburgers: in mass with little nutritional value.
But surely it is impossible to screen candidates for moral character, and why should a teacher of mathematics model values that not all of society agree upon? Do we not value Truth, Honour, Respect or Responsibility? Are we so lost that we cannot agree that both professional excellence and personal dignity are at least equally valued in the person we trust our future, our children, to? Perhaps we confuse religion with the ideals of Faith and Hope, or we dispel the importance of Discipline and Perseverance with antiquated military-style schools? Perhaps we have allowed government too liberal a hand in its standardization of public education, for what politician cares about the intellect of his constituents. Certainly, a mayor like Rob Ford would prefer his “Ford Nation” to remain ignorant of what Duty and Honesty mean.
As an educator, I believe that I must first be a man of character. I must be an explorer, a thinker, an artist, a craftsman, and a learner. I must know what it means to fail and rise up in rebellion. I must undermine the status quo in trickster fashion so that my students find new pathways forward in an increasingly shallow pool of water and opportunity. As an educator I must seek wisdom in authors such as Plutarch and Ovid, while looking for answers in the traditional wisdoms of First Nations to offset the ignorance of Ford Nations. I must adapt to the onset of exponential technologies, while synthesizing analogue machinery to build better trap for my students.
This morning found me reflecting on two items recently received in the mail: the first two volumes of Plutarch’s Moralia and two sizes of UK-made Thor hammers. Both would be considered useless by most teacher candidates about to enter the profession in September, and perhaps that is wherein lies the rub: their focus is on the best practices set out by college professors who were uncomfortable teaching students. They will be indoctrinated to believe that differentiation, scaffolding, and book-ending are more important tools than morals and hammers. They will never understand the character of Kipling’s verse “… watch the things you gave your life to, broken, /And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools..” Why build when you can consume? Why restore when you can buy more?
What am I going to do with forgotten Greek morality and British hammers? Why seek out such things? I assert that while others seek wisdom in reality television, it can be much more readily found in the words of our ancestors. Plutarch’s essay on the education of children has provided me with ideas that I will mull over for weeks to come. Instead of taking in my slightly damaged King Baby Day of the Dead skull ring for repair, I bought a duo of traditional copper and rawhide-faced hammers to repair the damage caused by opening a beer bottle. The ring’s edge was repaired for the same cost, but I did it personally. I also know own both the knowledge of how to perform similar repairs and the tools to do so with. As I replace the Italian plastic on my Ducati Monster 696 with German carbon fibre, I see the value of tools and maintenance.
The founder of Confederate Motorcycles, Matt Chambers, was quoted as saying in an interview that “Through machine and brand, [we] encourage a new approach where every person is nurtured to be what they were born to be, in harmony with what’s going on inside themselves.” I believe that Chambers has a clear grip on what educators should also encourage in their daily practice: new approaches based on strong foundations. Atlas may shrug, but he still holds the world upon his shoulders.