Educating in the States: accompanying the young in their discovery of reality’s value, sign of the mystery that precedes us

The greatest paradox in American society is that the exaltation of the individual’s singularity is often sought out through homologous initiatives where the person ultimately becomes a faceless individual. This phenomenon is evident in high schools where the perception of one’s uniqueness in the world may just be the most difficult thing to find in students.

During these years as a high school teacher in the United States, I have discovered that teaching–as suggested by its etymology—means showing that realty is beautiful because it is a sign of a greater mystery that precedes us in life and that we recognize. Ultimately, this is the whole issue. If what surrounds me only holds the value I attribute to it, if it is purged of intrinsic meaning, if it can consequently be manipulated as I please–perhaps even for a noble future cause–then reality appears to have no origin. We all then tragically become “children of nobody.”

The most beautiful moments in the classroom? When, during a physics class, students first grasped what a rainbow really is, that is, the double refraction of light through small water particles on a humid day. When my kids, modern as they are, realized the book of Job, written in a time and palace so distant from us, contains questions even they don’t dare ask in Religion class.

One of my students was nominated valedictorian, that is the best of her class, out of almost three-hundred pupils. On graduation day, students who were nominated give a speech in front of their peers. Usually, the homologation mentioned above ensures that these speeches all sound the same, hymns to the infinite potential of human willpower. Instead, that day, Brooke decided to challenge the audience: “I invite you to seek the intrinsic meaning of everything you’re passionate about,” she said among other things. “All these passions, in fact, lead us to what we truly desire: happiness, truth, beauty and goodness. They all point to the origin we come from: God. There’s nothing better than realizing the meaning of life, the reason behind our passions.” In these words lies the most interesting journey that awaits students and teachers in the classroom.

 

Cover photo by Katina Rogers – flickr.com

michele benetti

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