Sunday, April 7, 2013

Filling A Pail Or Lighting A Fire?

From today's Times and News-Star

An administrator in the state’s education hierarchy said recently that the main objective of the system is to train students for the workforce.

The same day that opinion was offered, I read a note from a teacher that referenced a William Butler Yeats quote: “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

So…which one is it?

Obviously, we need know-how. We can’t “think” a roof up over a barn. And you can’t light a fire with wet wood. Inspiration is no good without some tools.

But the smartest or handiest student will go only so far without confidence and a dream. A fire. People were becoming newspaper editors and bank tellers and school teachers before there were colleges, so there has to be more to education than filling the pail. Right?

When stuck on educational questions, I consult my friend Other (say it “O-thur” – it’s an unusual name, unless you’re rural.) Other has been in the technical school arena for about a quarter of a century. He’s got to fill the pail for sure. But I asked him if he saw that as his main purpose.

“I do train potential graphic artists for the actual workforce,” Other said. “Even hook them up with employers. It's great to make the right match and see both prosper.

“Sometimes it's a grind-it-out, show-up-every-day, understand-layout-and-design principles, learn-to-use-the-software kind of education. But my main focus has always been to inspire or motivate or at least provoke. Whatever it takes to challenge someone to maximize what they've got and desire to get more. To value time, to listen and observe, to seek criticism and consider it, to read, to be honest and dependable, to do unto others.

“I tell them that they could learn graphics at home from a book or online. But the more important stuff requires them to be in class. Beware if you are placed in my path. I assume it's no accident and I have an obligation to make a mark on you. You get everything I've got. Not just my personal graphic skill set and experience. Barely that.

“You mainly get what I was given. The words and inspiration gleaned from the best I've known. The instructions, the warnings, the writings, the memories from my mentors. Miss a class and you might miss...

“Miss Windham's inspiration from the sixth grade at Queensborough; or Mr. Nichols’ Lakeshore math memories; or Coach Ziegler's inspiration from Northwood; or things learned from Mrs. Barr or Miss Leary or Coach Farrar or others; or priceless stuff from parents and grandparents; or well-said things from books and columns and sermons; even nuggets from Andy Griffith and company; or experiences from a life lived with the benefit of all that.

“I've turned out some printers, some graphic artists and more than a few who ended up doing something else. I hope that most of them can reflect on my input and realize some benefit.”

Other is a teacher I wish I’d had. But, as it happens, it’s all over for him in the classroom, at least as things are now, come May 15. State budget cuts and whatnot inspired his superiors to ax him. All those years and he gets a “Seeya!”

“Pretty humbling,” Other told me, “or worse. So now I’ll have to start backing up my big talk. And start living like God is in control and not me or them.

“I'll try,” Other said, “to apply what I've learned in class.”