Saturday, December 12, 2009

Giving Voice: The High Calling of Teaching

Today my 19 year old son and I got into a conversation about college and learning,  which ultimately led to a conversation about "giving voice." He is the youngest of our three children, none of which I can easily refer to as "children" any longer, and the only one who is still at home. We often converse about things as simple as what's for dinner, and as complex as philosophy.

During our conversation, I was recounting being in high school and remembering that gnawing question that always plagued me, as to what possible purpose classes like English and Algebra could ever serve, particularly in my own personal life. English, where we "diagramed" sentences, or algebra where we seemed to intentionally make numbers painfully mysterious, both were an enigmatic exercise in apparent frivolity to me. At least that's what I thought at the time.

Then one day I became a mother, and both learning and teaching began to mean much, much more. I wanted my son to be able to express himself, so I taught him to talk. I wanted him to be able to fully communicate and interact with the world around him, so I taught him to listen. I wanted him to be able to play that guitar he loved so much, or to be the best possible athlete he could be...if that is what he wanted. How do we go about becoming the people we become?

Every human being has within them the potential for greatness. And by greatness I simply mean the most robust expression of who we uniquely are in the universe. But to express that...we must have a voice. I don't necessarily mean a literal vocal output of sound, but rather a vehicle of self-expression...the TOOLS to express.

My son and I were talking about learning scales in music class. He has so much beautiful music inside of him. He hears it in his mind and heart. But to be able to express it, he's had to learn the tools that give his creativity a VOICE.

As a writer...what if I had never learned, for instance, the alphabet, or how to read, or how to type, or how to make a complete sentence? (Yes, I know...sometimes I still struggle with that last one, and the tool called "grammar," is not always at home in my tool belt, I'll admit.) But what if I had never learned to spell or to write?  I could be full of amazing stories and imaginative prose and verse, but without a would those things come forth?

And this brought us back to the topic of teaching. He wants to be a teacher. He wants to teach grade school music. And I am delighted with this, as you can imagine. Because when it's all boiled down to the most organic truth of the matter....teachers....ALL teachers, not just academics...give others VOICE. Without the tools, the basics, the foundation, the "technical aspects" of any given skill or study, whether it be the English language, or the notes and keys and scales on a piano...there is no VOICE with which to express oneself.

One of the tragedies of our society, is that there are very likely great authors, brilliant painters and sculptors, and inspired musicians trapped within their own limitations. Authors that have never learned to read and write, musicians that have never learned to play an instrument, painters that have never held a paintbrush and wouldn't know the difference between acrylics and oils...sculptors that have never once touched wet clay or whittled even a toothpick. If you don't have the either have no voice, or your voice is very dampened by it's limitations. Teachers give...voice. The molding and shaping and unique sound of each voice, comes from within. But the creator must have the tools to make themselves "heard."

It's a quirky odd thing about me that I have always felt deeply saddened when anyone dies. I mean ANYONE. Even when I was very young I remember watching the news and feeling acutely grieved by the passing of someone in an automobile accident or when someone left this earth due to a terminal illness, or any other mode of "exit." And I consciously remember thinking, as a young teen...all of the beauty inside that human being, the beauty that was unique to their experiences in life...all...gone. What they might have written, what they might have said, or sang, or painted, or built...all that they would have become...has been taken from us. We may have been left some of their creativity...if they had a voice...but some of them did not. Some musician died without ever writing a song. Some writer passed from this earth without ever penning that haunting poem. Some painter took their leave without gracing a canvas with mesmerizing color and form. And it is a great and irretrievable loss.

So when we have the opportunity to learn something new, or the opportunity to teach something to another soul that is open and hungry, maybe , just maybe...that should make our hearts pound with passion, whether we are a mother teaching our son the alphabet, a father teaching his daughter how to whittle a working whistle, or an elementary school teacher patiently explaining how to construct a sentence, or just a good friend...sitting down to teach their friend their first guitar chords. For all of our voices together make up a tremendous, amazing symphony. Every voice is unique. Every voice matters. One of the most enduring things you can give another human voice.

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1 comment:

  1. How wonderfully said. You are a wonderful writer and you have expressed some novel ideas here. You have given me food for thought - things I had never considered - how when people die, so many of them die without finding whatever it was they were supposed to be. And yes, there is real tragedy in that.