Friday, April 13, 2007


Tonight I went to Duane & Elizabeth's wedding shower. It was a lot of fun, and I got to learn about how he proposed (rented out the movie theatre, got the manager to put on a "film" of his own making, Elizabeth cried. :)

Josh and his mom came, and he and I chatted for a little bit. He was reading Shiloh--apparently there are three Shiloh books now, and he had them all bound in one volume. That made me feel old--when I was a kid, there was just the first one, and we had to read it every year in school because the author was from WV. Now there are three? We talked about how the middle book isn't as good, and how that seems to be the case for a lot of trilogies. I love kids (and people) who read, because they always have something to talk about.

During the "opening the presents" portion of the festivities, I ended up talking to Josh's mom. Josh is going to be the first kid to hit the 25 point benchmark and win some kind of prize--we're thinking of taking him out for pizza and ice cream or maybe, if he takes a really long time to get those last two points, we'll do Green Valley Bookfair (next open--May 12), aka The Happiest Place on Earth (Disneywhat?). His mom seemed pretty happy about that--especially when I mentioned that none of the other kids are anywhere close.

Talking with Josh, I realized how much I really like him. Sometimes you get these glimpses, with kids, of the people they're going to be, barring unforeseen horrible events, and that's exciting. I sort of got that, talking with Josh tonight. He's a smart guy, and a good reader. He's good at school without trying. And he's kind. I think that the best part about all this is that his mom hasn't a clue that he's going to turn out just fine. She's so wrapped up in the minutia of his life, of making sure he eats and sleeps and plays and studies, learns proper table manners and the multiplication table, that she can't see this bigger picture human that he is. "I really like having Josh in class," I said.
"Josh is a pretty smart kid. He likes your class a lot," she told me, "and he's learning so much." It just struck me as funny, because the thing I like the most about having him in class isn't that he's a smart kid--I've known smart kids who were no fun at all to teach. I probably was a smart kid who made teaching a real chore for some people. Josh is a good person, and that is what makes him a joy to teach.

When I was a kid, I thought it was all about winning the science fair. And I did, basically every year. It wasn't until I was in college that Rick, my professor--who was also my mentor and friend--told me that he knew I had a good brain, but that what he valued was my heart. Had anyone ever said that to me before? I don't know. If they did, I don't remember it. I'm certain that my parents wanted me to be, at least, a well-behaved person. I got in trouble for being unkind. But I was praised for being smart. I can't remember being praised for being kind. My parents probably thanked me on the rare occasions when I did the dishes without being asked. It wasn't the focus, though. They were good people, and I think that they did a pretty good job raising my brother and me. This is just one little thing they forgot to tell me, and another person stepped in, and filled that hole in my education. When I was in college, I babysat two beautiful girls, Phoebe and Helen. By the time I left school, they were five and eight, respectively. I went back to visit them the next year, and I asked Helen how life was going for her. She told me that she was doing well in school. "Yes," said Phoebe, "Helen is a lot smarter than the kids in her class."
Helen blushed with feigned modesty. "Well, not all of the kids."

I looked her in the eye, and said to her what Rick had said to me, because I wish that someone had said these words to me when I was nine. "You have a great brain, and that is wonderful. You'll be able to do a lot with your brain. But you have a good heart, too, and that's just as important to me." Helen looked at me like I was from another planet. I couldn't blame her, but I hope she remembers that and thinks about it someday. Anyway, her dad is an ethics professor--what could I possibly have to teach her that he hasn't already gotten to?

I don't know how I will ever teach my own (future) children how to value goodness as highly as intelligence. You don't hand out trophies for being a nice person--in fact, that's antithetical to the point. Even the kids I know are truly good at heart--like Joshua--clearly think that people care mostly that they get good grades. That's what we tell them every day.

In my class, I wish I could teach them to value goodness, but it's awfully difficult. You can't even talk about it, really. That misses the point. They are all very good people. They aren't particularly well-behaved, but that's not necessarily a measure of goodness. Lachlan and Josh are easier to work with --not coincidentally, they have very stable home lives. Amanda and David are both living in stressful situations, and it's harder for them to focus on much of anything. It makes me wonder--was I like that, when my parents were going through their divorce? I don't remember having a hard time in school or anything, but maybe my teachers were tearing their hair out just having to talk to me.

I'm looking forward to watching them all grow up into whatever kind of people they are going to be. I hope they remember when I thank them for a great class, with lots of eager questions and kindness to one another. I hope they understand.

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