Teri Vance: Creating safe havens for learning
There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about schools and the roles teachers should play in keeping kids safe. As with so many things, the topic is swirled in controversy and often times name calling and aggression.
But last week I observed a conversation between a former schoolmate of mine and his former teacher. And I think this goes to the heart of the matter.
When schools are a safe space for children who are vulnerable and teachers protect that vulnerability, beautiful things can happen. Lives are changed.
It started when my friend Hank posted this quote on Facebook from Madeleine L’Engle, author of “A Wrinkle In Time.”
“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown up, we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability … To be alive is to be vulnerable.”
Hank lived out a hard childhood in the old railroad town of Montello east of Wells. It’s home to a gas station and two bars, where the school bus driver knew he had to stop if Hank and his brother weren’t in front of their house.
Through a series of sometimes difficult and sometimes so-lovely-they-will-burst your-heart-open events, Hank has ended up in New York living his dreams.
On his original post, beloved Wells Elementary School teacher Elaine Swanson responded, “‘A Wrinkle in Time’ is a book for all age groups. Hank’s quote about vulnerability most likely goes over the heads of most children, but certainly does resonate with thoughtful adults.
“The takeaway for me is the theme of the book: Love trumps hate. The witches sent Meg to save her father, and later they sent her to save Charles Wallace, because her love for them was so strong.”
Hank replied, “Elaine, yesterday when I read the final chapter where Meg realizes IT’s mistake, I recalled exactly how I felt in sixth grade when you read it to us. I remember your sweet voice quivering with emotion as Meg kept yelling “I love you!” It was a powerful signal to me to allow myself to feel fully and that I could let go of anger/hate and concentrate on the people I loved. You were one of them. Very powerful. Thank you again for that gift.”
Elaine wrote back: “Dear Hank … aren’t we fortunate that talented authors can tell a story that resonates so completely with the pain that you and so many others experienced while growing up. As adults, we have choices that allow us to avoid hateful circumstances. As adults we learn coping mechanisms. But children are so vulnerable.
“Thank you for your kind words. Learning to love is the lesson we are all here to learn … sharing love with those who come into our lives is the joy that makes life worthwhile. You were and continue to be a great joy to me and to so many others.”
This is the magic that can happen in schools. This is the magic that needs to happen in schools.
Surely, we can all set aside our political biases and agendas to make it possible.
Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.