On individualsby Marc Severson on Aug. 28, 2011, under Education
One of the unexpected pleasures of writing these OpEds is that I rarely have to respond to comments. Given time someone will chirp in with a response that mirrors my thinking almost exactly or brings up something I hadn’t thought about and I can just sit back, read and enjoy the dialogue. So many different individuals all speaking their mind to a specific topic or subject, you know, respectful dialogue.
Those of you perceptive ones, and you know who you are, Sis, may have also realized I am currently writing a series of articles about my greatest acheivements in this or any other world. There are four of them, and though I have not mentioned them by name yet, I continue to marvel at the source of inspiration they represent for this Tired Old Teacher.
In my writing I seek to make people think and establish dialogues, which I may or may not take part in. I generally try to avoid potentially inciendiary remarks, although some tend to ignite flames nonetheless. But I am abandoning the safety of that policy upon the moment. Ready? Here is one of the most shocking statements I can make: My baby is turning twenty five years old!
Of all my children, she most defies categorization. Her skills are manifest and varied. Yesterday for example she worked at her job (“It’s a job , honey, do your best and work hard but at the end of the day it is a job, not a career.”), then went to tutor my other daughter’s significant other (see how PC I have become?) in math. And not just math, but MATH! She has an amazing aptitude for math. Amazing because while I was told I have an aptitude for math, I have no facility for it, or desire to develop my aptitude further. But she can do math.
She then went to celebrate her birthday. But first she left the old folks some of the cake she had made for herself. It was a two layer chocolate cake, the bottom layer about 18 inches square and the second offset at a bias about 9 inches square. Wrapped in fondant, filled with peanut butter ganache and decorated with silver paint with a belt of black ribbon and an array of fresh red roses, it was a masterpiece worthy of any bakery in town.
I could go on, but by now you’re either tired of my crowing or wanting to know the point. There is a point. When I was in high school I wrote reams of dreadful poetry but there was one that I liked. I can’t remember all of it but a few lines went, ”The old mould sat squat, realizing life, He said, ‘Make the man all the same.’” Even as a teenager in the mid-sixties I was lamenting the loss of the individual. Not individuality, that is still around, but we live in a world that celebrates conformity.
Education may be our worst offender. We seek to have all children learn the same things at the same time for the same reasons. We test them with tests that are all the same. We descry those who learned another language at birth and immerse them in a single language to the exclusion of all others. I am as guilty as the next person. I teach them with the same text, offer the identical skills lessons that I offered last year and the year before and do not allow near enough time to celebrate the individual wonder that is each child who spends a year in my care.
As an archaeology student at the UofA, I was among the last few fortunate ones who had access to the one man who was at once the model for our profession and the most accessible member of the faculty. I could walk through the open door of Dr. Haury’s office virtually anytime of the day and he would take time to talk to me about the earth shattering archaeological theory my mind was fomenting. I remember one day I was standing with him and another archaeology student of my era named Karl. We were arguing politely with Doc that archaeology was changing and that archaeologists weren’t all going to be similar anymore as they had been in his day. He smiled that rare, childishly simple smile of his that lit up his whole face, reached over and tugged each of us by our beards. “If you say so.”
I do not celebrate the individual nearly as much as I should but I like to think that my wife and I raised four remarkably different people and my baby may be the most unique of all. But twenty five years old? That’s not possible.