HAVE LOVED and appreciated many teachers over the years.
Some of them were my own, and some are teachers that I have
encountered along the way. Wondrous people, vibrant, alive,
concerned about what they do. They are proof positive that there is
still plenty of good left in the school system. They do their jobs
well, and they have a substantial impact on many lives.
My 8th Grade English Teacher, Mrs. Jamieson, was the first person
that picked up on my ability to speak in public. She tapped into me
for some “Oral Interp” projects—reading stories and poems with
feeling and imagination—and it changed my life. I can still hear
myself droning on, as I artfully recited Edgar Allan Poe’s, “The
Bells” to an appreciative class. I went from there to Speech and
Dramatics, where my self-image in High School and College became
that of an “actor” and a performer. Everyone needs an
“image” of him or herself in the school system, and in life, and
that became mine.
In High School, Mr. Johnson became my mentor and friend. His Drama
Classes met in a tiny bungalow on a back lot of Long Beach
Polytechnic High School in California. The more dedicated “actors
and actresses” at Poly High never used our assigned lockers in the
main building. Mr. Johnson gave us drawers and cupboards in the
bungalow for storage of personal items, so that we’d come there
between classes and develop a sense of community. We loved spending
lunches and breaks, talking with “Mr. J” and with each other. He
never seemed to tire of our antics or our raucous teenage
THE EXCEPTIONS, AND THE RULE
A handful of my own teachers were exceptional people. Maybe some of
yours were exceptional, too. And that’s just the point, isn’t
it? There are exceptions, and then there is the rule. We would be
quite remiss in this study if we didn’t also take note of
literally hordes of teachers out there — tenured and nearly
invincible - who sleepwalk through each school day, rattling through
“standard” courses of study, and downloading fertile young minds
with repetition, boredom, and mental malaise.
Paul Simon put it succinctly in one of his early songs in which he
cried out: “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high
school - it's a wonder I can think at all!” Admittedly, these
problems don’t rest entirely with the teachers. A good deal of it
points to administrative and legislative malaise as well. Being tied
to a “set” curriculum for 20, 30, or 40 years can kill the
spirit of anyone.
What I am hearing, over and over, is a complaint that too much
concern is being focused upon statistics and test scores, and too
little is being spent on genuinely connecting with the kids and
interfacing with them on what is vital to their world. One
award-winning teacher confided to me: “We’re either spending
time preparing the kids for these (standardized) tests, or we’re
giving them the tests. There’s very little time to do much
In this current system, if a teacher does break with “protocol,”
and create a truly innovative learning environment, his peers scream
bloody murder about it, because it makes the rest of them look bad.
It also puts the administration on edge. After all, someone just
The students, who can spot brilliance and authenticity a mile away,
will immediately flock to anything that doesn’t bore them to
tears. If it also has vital application to the gnawing challenges
they face everyday, and speaks in a language they can understand,
the response curve goes up even further. If the teacher actually
listens, instead of merely talking at them, the results become
But are “results” the primary object here, beyond acceptable
test scores? Or are the keys to this dilemma the same keys that
unlock doors in every other part of life — namely, politics and
money? Brilliant, imaginative teachers get kids excited. That’s a
given. However, in many instances, they get punished for it. A huge
number of gifted teachers eventually leave their jobs because of
administrative or peer pressure to conform to the accepted
“standards and practices” of days gone by.
REACHING FOR THE CHILD WITHIN
This external situation is a perfect mirror of the inner life of
most folks on the planet, regardless of age. This is exactly how
many of us are treating our Inner Magical Child.
In physical school, young people are forced to endure ritualized,
outmoded, “standardized” lessons and projects, which their
elders insist on cramming down their throats. We are speaking here
of the ever-present, ever-important “Three “R’s.” The adults
hated learning about them when they were small, and they’re
determined that they must put their own kids through this same test
of endurance as well.
Granted, learning these skills can be essential to efficient,
everyday living. But who gets to discover that insight, and make a
free will choice to reach for the remedy? Are kids given a chance to
discover it — or is it simply foisted onto them, like a foregone
conclusion? The “in charge” adults say to their offspring: “We
know you’ll need this, so here it is.” Though some kids accept
that judgment without question, a greater number of them fiercely
The minute they walk into the door of a school, we begin to force
kids to sit when they feel like moving around, listen when they have
questions to ask or insights to share, and memorize something old
when their awakening consciousness longs to create something new.
Beyond school, and into “adulthood,” folks are haunted by
compulsive adherence to or rebellion against these traditional ways
of engaging life, blocking them all from noticing the
moment-to-moment inspiration and beauty that continues to knock upon
the doors of their hungry hearts!
They go from schoolwork to adult work, with very little space
in-between. Then they get married and have kids of their own. Those
who try to expand that blessed in-between space are referred to as
“slackers,” and parents cry out in agony, fearing that their
children will never amount to anything.
Contacting the Magical Child, at any level, is no more complicated
than ordering dinner at a restaurant. You give the kid a menu, and
you ask him or her: “What do you want to eat?” The hard part is
waiting for an answer. If the kid hasn’t learned to read, you have
one situation. If the kid isn’t hungry, you have another
situation. Meanwhile, we do have to stay on schedule, don’t we?
The word “schedule” plays a big part in all of this. One of the
most essential aspects in any person’s growth process is TIME. We
all need time to feel, time to notice things, time to experience
desire, and time to go about satisfying our needs and desires. But
parents and teachers only have a certain amount of time to give us.
How much they give is greatly affected by how much time their own
parents and teachers gave them.
I have spoken about the “ownership” of children, by parents and
society, in my series “The Imagine Nation.” It can be found in
the PLW Archives. Personal sovereignty plays a big part in a
person’s motivation to expand and be creative in everyday life. So
does a sense of personal worth.
In the next segment, I would like to discuss the importance of
creating a genuine learning environment. For learning transactions
to be complete and effective, the flow of energy must move both
ways. Power must be shared, and realizations must occur on all
levels. If this doesn’t happen, education becomes dead-ucation,
and the gifts and potential of another generation will be lost.
Daniel Jacob, 2004
On to Part 3