There are two recent arrivals sitting on my desk as I write. The first is The New York Times Magazine from Sunday, September 15th. It features a number of topics for our educational consideration, prominently, 1. “Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?;” 2. “Rupert Murdoch’s Tablet Takeover;” and 3. “How A Kid from Mongolia Found His Way to MIT.” (Abridged answers and summaries: 1. SEL—Social/Emotional Learning is really trying; 2. Tablet Takeover=Technology Taking Traditional Teaching To Task—Typical!; 3. Mongolia to MIT via MOOC-Massive Open Online Course).
The second recent arrival is a book called, “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents” (the italics are part of the title, suggesting that the parents are more edgy and anxious than the kids). I haven’t read the book fully, but the blurbs and the summaries confirm the readily confirmable idea that adults play a significant part in children’s ability (or inability) to manage stress, difficulty, and worry. Given the range of educational experiences and expectations out there, from finding your way to MIT to simply making it through a day of kindergarten without melting down, one yearns for sources of stability and assurance, and one naturally looks to the adults (who are worrying about eMotions, Murdoch, and Mongolia) to sort it all out.
Briefly, still standing here at the outset of the school year, I would like to propose two simple sources of clarity and confidence, even in the face of destabilization and challenge. The first involves a strong community. An educational process—whether marked by the entry into a new school or into a new school year—is profoundly disorienting. Yet, it is intentionally so, and good schools act as good communities that acknowledge and contextualize the essential “disorientation process” that must take place in order for growth to happen. We are very good at “orientation” (see Windsor Mountain article, gallery, and video), but mainly because we as a community sympathize with and understand the value of disorientation. The community, through its confidence in its strength as an organizing principle of growth, understands and directs both the discomfort and the transformation underlying personal development.
The second source of strength in the face of educational anxiety is personal. Many of my messages to the community are aimed at helping us (teachers as well as students) understand the inspiring and daunting power we have to regulate out own experiences. Good professionals and grown-ups come to understand and practice such self-regulation intuitively. For people in the active process of growing up, self-control, self-possession, and self-awareness of this sort can become the most precious gifts of an educational process and setting. It is my hope that such leaps in self-awareness will ultimately contribute not just to personal growth, but to the growth of strong communities and a stronger society. All to the point of making the dizzying array of institutional and personal opportunities and challenges before us manageable and even, perhaps, inspirational.