In school I was an obedient, well mannered, quiet child who blindly accepted everything my teachers told me. America was the land of the free and home of the brave and we were exceedingly lucky to live in the best country in the world, Christopher Columbus was a great man who brought order to an ungodly land overrun with savages and the Big Bad Wolf deserved to end up in a pot of boiling water. No other perspectives need be considered, thank you very much.
It never occurred to me that adults could be mistaken, purposely misleading or simply wrong. As I grew up I became more independent in my thinking but the fundamental core of my belief was that those who were older than me were indeed wiser. I needed only to sit quietly and soak up the wisdom that they so graciously bestowed upon my young mind. In return I would one day earn the same respect through knowledge that had been given to those who came before me. And the cycle would repeat.
Amazingly, this prevailing attitude remained pretty much unshaken until I was a 30-year-old student working on my Master's degree at Columbia University. That experience changed my outlook on education forever. It was there that we were encouraged to question everything. My instructors welcomed, even demanded, that we look deeply into the viewpoints of a particular author. What were their biases? Did they skew the facts in stating their case? How were the statistics they provided presented to favor their argument? Are there other perspectives to consider?
This was a revelation for me. Misrepresentation? Bias? Agendas? Dishonesty? Oh, my!
With my eyes newly opened I embarked on my teaching career determined to create an environment of learning in my classroom where my young students felt comfortable challenging me to defend my teachings by asking for examples or clarification. I hoped that even the littlest ones would feel free to disagree with me if I misspoke or provided them with incorrect information. And it is a good thing too because I am sometimes wrong, as the following story will illustrate.
Picture the scene...a warm day in June and I am at the Prospect Park Zoo in Brooklyn with my preschool class. My BFF and official class 'mother' Joy has accompanied us on the trip where we are learning about the various types of wildlife. As we walk through the sandy paths 'oohing' and 'ahhing' over each fascinating creature, from capybaras to prairie dogs, we come upon a sign for this adorable fella.
The three-and-four-year-old children in my charge were eager to know the name of this cutie and I honestly admitted that I had no idea what it was called. So, I dutifully gathered the children around me and directed their attention to the well placed sign which would unlock the mystery. Gazing up at the words I suddenly became stumped. What was this creature? I stared blankly at the sign trying to decipher the strange combination of letters. And with sweat beginning to form on my brow I proceeded to sound out the name on the sign and inform those attentive little ones that the fuzzy little guy before them was called an 'OZ-EE-UH'. Yeah, that's right I assured myself 'an oz-ee-uh'. Whew!
I continued reading,
"This oz-ee-uh likes to eat..."
I am suddenly cut off by Joy who can stand it no longer. In her dry delivery that was fueled by stupefied exasperation she made it known that this was not the ever popular 'oz-ee-uh' but was in fact,
"A red panda from Asia."
And how terribly funny.
I misread the sign thinking that Asia was the name of the animal and it must be pronounced in some exotic way. I began to laugh. Joy began to laugh as she told me she could see the wheels turning in my mind as I tried to figure out the name of the animal. She saw me struggle dumbfounded while I butchered the name and watched memorized as I continued to try to make sense of it all until she could no longer contain herself. I am glad she rescued me on this one. Props to Joy!
This story has made me giggle on countless occasions since then but also stands as a testament that adults/teachers can be wrong.
That Christmas as Joy and I exchanged gifts she kept this one for last. It was a children's alphabet book she was brilliant enough to find at The Metropolitan Museum of Art bookstore called...