“The genuine educator does not merely consider individual functions of his pupil, as one intending to teach him only to know and be capable of certain definite things; but his concern is always the person as a whole, both in the actuality in which he lives before you now and in his possibilities, what he can become.”
— Buber, Between Man and Man
As I raise my two little girls, I cannot help but consider where we have landed as a society, and where I wish we were. In some ways, it appears we have become increasingly divided from one another, and alienated from our collective humanity. We are not doing a really good job “seeing” past our perceived divides, seeing the person behind the façade. Our differences often blind us to our similarities. This manifests in the painfully divided political climate, one where a person might physically accost another for having different beliefs. This divide is further evidenced in the police brutality against people of color, in the rising neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements, in the increasing number of mass shootings. Somewhere, somehow, people are losing sight of each other. And those who do not feel “seen” might fall into depression, drown themselves in narcotics, or lash out – sometimes violently – to call attention to themselves. While we maintain surface-level connections with many more people than in the past via social media, we seem to come up short on deep and meaningful relationships with the complex and multifaceted human beings around us.
All of this causes me to despair about the world into which I have brought my daughters. But a wave of change seems to be cresting at the horizon. It seems that we are headed for a social “reckoning.” People are beginning to stand up and declare their right to be seen and heard; those who have been marginalized are making their plight known in the form of movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter. But this, too, can initially cause backlash. If an equitable and just future is to be forged from the mayhem then programs like those in my study have to respond in kind, move along with the tide, grow, change and evolve. Much of the work for the future of our nation begins in the classroom, these microcosms of society, sites where children learn how to form relationships with others and better understand themselves. Teachers are responsible for modeling and facilitating the development of meaningful relationships here, but they must first learn how to do so thoughtfully. This is where teacher training comes in. And honestly, it gives me hope.
As I experienced at UCLA, and as I have seen in the two programs represented in this book (albeit in very different ways), teachers can be taught to form relationships with students. They can learn to re-evaluate their own history, reasons for being there, motivations for teaching particular lessons. They can learn to honor parents and guardians, to reach out to them in multiple meaningful ways. They can learn to listen to students: what they say, what they imply, what they omit. They can learn to care for students, to push them academically, to try to empathize with their needs/interests/worries. They can learn to draw upon their knowledge and understanding of students to design responsive curricula and instruction. They can learn to view students not as pupils who must acquire a pre-determined set of skills, but as multifaceted human beings capable of teaching quite a bit to themselves, each other, and the teacher.
And while connecting with students allows teachers to better serve their students, it also makes their work more intrinsically rewarding; for in the process of seeing others, they too are seen. Forming meaningful connections with our fellow human beings uplifts us all. So let’s build a better society. One connection at a time. And let’s start in the classroom.