What Exactly Do You Mean By Traditional?

traditionalIn short, Buddha-nature has the quality of infinite adaptability.” Phillip Kapleau The Three Pillars of Zen.

Few things frustrated me more than hearing from other teachers, “I remember when we used to get good kids.” The idea that there was or is a “traditional student” is built on a pretext that the majority culture was an ideal to strive for, a mistake at best, a tragedy at worst. Usually what teachers mean by this is that they remember a time when people expected less out of them and they didn’t have to work so hard.  I think one of the beauties of working in Flint for 20 plus years was that I had in my room a range of cultural realities. Children in my room came from two parent families with one parent being male and the other female, with both parents male or female, with a single parent, with grandparents being the caregivers, with no parent present at all, families living in poverty, families living in affluence, children who were homeless, children who were abused and children who were loved beyond belief.

I never was allowed to fall into the trap of “normal.” Because of that I learned to adapt to what was there, right in front of me. Not what used to be or what I wished it would be, but living breathing, magnificent human beings who may be hindered because the society didn’t see them as I did. But if I could demonstrate adaptability then they had a chance to learn it. No one had the luxury of feeling less or unable in my room. We played at a very high level because I think that is how goddesses and gods should play.

My fear with standardized assessment is that teachers will take it to mean standardized instruction. Nothing could be more dangerous. You are not working an assembly line in your classroom. These aren’t cogs in the machine. These are brains that absolutely MUST be released into the world. We do not know where the next Sojourner Truth or George Washington Carver or Albert Schweitzer or Indira Gandhi will come from. If you saddle yourself hoping for traditional students because you think it will make your life a little easier, you have missed the power and glory of being a teacher and you have sold out a generation of students sitting in front of you.

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