Croskey’s Corner: Wisdom
Over forty years ago, I had just completed my student teaching in social studies at Princeton Junior School. I came to social studies by a wayward trail. When I was 12, I was the editor of the Mound School Gopher Gazette, and was working on being a journalist. OK, actually, I wanted to be mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, because, well, I knew I couldn’t be Superman. Then, in high school, I wanted to be a chemist. Part of it was wanting to blow stuff up. But another part was that it was fun mixing chemicals and looking for “What ifs?” and “What happened?” Next, I wanted to be a math teacher – until I took Calculus. Finally, I settled on Social Studies. Part of my motivation was to attempt to be as stimulating, as creative, and as funny as my Sophomore World History teacher was. But just as big a push, maybe bigger, came from wanting to be a better American Government teacher than the guy that “taught” me. The cross country coach. Long ago, he had copied the textbook onto notebook paper, and read the book to us word for word as his lecture. That class was a great place to finish my Physics homework.
Looking back, I realized that I was, well, looking back …for motivation. The past was my muse. I wanted to be better than some of my teachers had been, and as good as others. My models, my points of reference, were from my past.
As I got into my educational career, I began to look more to the “side” than to the past. I compared myself to others with whom I was teaching. I stole ideas from them freely. I used them as my motivation. I wanted to be as good as the best of them, and – dare I say? – better than them. I will leave it to others to judge how short of that goal I fell. I do know that today, after every class I teach, I see that I could have improved it.
Subsequently, I shifted careers from teaching to school psychology. Yet I still followed the pattern of, early on, looking to the past for inspiration and later, looking to the side. Now that I am retired, and teaching part-time, I feel like I have stopped looking to the past or to the side. Perhaps it is due to getting old, but now I tend to look ahead. My drive is to be:
- A better child advocate
- More empathic
- More creative
- More generous and helpful
There is a pull now from the unknown to be a better educator. I care, but I do not care as much as I could.
In the past, Character First! defined Wisdom, the May Character Quality, as “Seeing and responding to life situations from a perspective that transcends my current circumstances.” That definition, while wordy, has some nuances for me that are not as obvious in the current definition, “Making practical applications of what is learned.” I am drawn to the “transcending perspectives.” “Transcend” means to me to rise above the limits…of time, of the universe, of any barrier. I believe that is the “More” I hear calling me. I want to transcend the limits that I have placed on myself. I believe there is more to do; more to know; more to see; more to laugh; more to love; more to live. Yes, and there are more dark nights to bear. That is the hard part. I thought life would get easier as I grew older. THAT is not happening for me.
This may sound like I am seeking to be Perfect. If that is so, it is not in the sense of having no faults. It may be more about getting rid of the parts that don’t help me be a better educator and replacing them with parts that help me improve. Or, as Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
I believe now that Wisdom is looking at life through those Transcendence-colored glasses. Transcendence requires us to look to the Future, the Unknown. We have figures of speech for this: Think outside the box. Take your blinders off. Get the view from the balcony. At any rate, it does not mean looking from the past or from the side. Don’t you feel that, too? Don’t you have More to do? It probably isn’t surprising if we go through the Past, Present, and Future stages. Our students are traveling the same road. Bon Voyage to all of us.
“Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.”
–Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer