The Knowledge Is the Reward

Never in my wildest dreams did I think, or even consider, that I would start writing about education. I teach school and play drums in rock and roll and country bands. I owe this new-found path to my professor and mentor. Part of me wants to hug her, and part of me wants to take her out for a drink and ask her, "Why!?!?" I wrote a piece about some kids building a kite, which was nice, and it generated zero (0) comments. I wrote a piece that mentioned for-profit schooling, which was an incidental happening -- just because I'm reading so many articles about education and that was the latest one I had read -- that generated 119 comments... like so much white noise. I just read them and chuckled to myself. One reader called it a "weird article." I did not enter into the fray. I am just asking the questions. Like I've said many times: I have more passion than answers.

Education pushes people's buttons. I was discussing this fact with the co-owner of my favorite restaurant in the world -- she was a dance and choreography major who never took out a student loan. I am pursuing a Masters of Education in Leadership. We both agree that it might not be the best move for me. There are no guarantees. I know that each credit costs so many hundreds of dollars and at the end of my time I will get piece of paper that declares me a Master of Education. But what is that? I will still frustrate people in my classes. Just ask the mother of the child I described as nonchalant in front of his classmates because he forgot his book and shrugged his shoulders. She was angry and I bet she doesn't think I'm a good teacher, let alone a master. I will be a master of nothing. And I will not be guaranteed a better job with more money. What is the reward?

Today I gave a student a book. Just as a gift. It was Walter Wangerin's The Book of the Dun Cow. An incredible story of good versus evil, an Animal Farm of spirituality, featuring a rooster named Chauntecleer and his flock, his love Pertelote, a dog named Mundo Cani, a serpent rooster named Cockatrice, and the evil Wyrm. Anything I could write about this book would be a palimpsest of meaning over a beating heart in your hand. It's a heavy book. Anyway, I hoped that this kid, let's call him Stan, would like it and that it might open him up -- he's the kid whose eyes glaze over whenever I start trying to tell him something -- and he looked at me and said, "What's this?" I said, "It's a gift." He said, "Thanks, but no thanks. I have a book." I said, "Just read it."

Later, I was grousing to a colleague about the exchange. He said, "You're over-thinking this. He's just a tough kid to deal with." I do think too much. And I go off on these tangents about "why" and "how" and "what can I do about it?" I can write. If it's weird, it's weird. So be it. But that's what I can do. I cannot change minds, but I can ask questions. And I cannot hold a straight thought pattern -- it's like jumping from stone-to-stone in a brook, or more aptly like a goldfish swimming around a tank thinking to himself every time he passes the little plastic castle: "Hey, look! A castle!"

And I don't know if Stan will ever read the book. He might grow up and talk about the weird math teacher he had who gave him this book about a rooster. But he might read it. And it might reach him. And he might make a connection to something. And the seed of hope might start growing in him. I don't know. But that's my hope. I planted a seed of knowledge. And that's the reward. The knowledge is the reward. Stan will be fine whether he reads the book or not. He will be fine whether he finishes school or not. Look at Steve Jobs.

How many people do I know who have Master's Degrees and Doctorates who are waiting tables? Plenty. Part of the reason I am pursuing a Master's Degree is because I'm the only one in my rock and roll band who doesn't have one: there's a lawyer, an architect, an MBA, and a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology who is trying to find a cure for cancer -- and, according to him, not even succeeding. At least we have music.

My point is: there are no guarantees. If we go back to the beginning, to Aristotle, to Plato, up through the ages: my man Pestalozzi, the kid-centric Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, Montessori, and Dewey... to the current scary stories Diane Ravitch recounts in her books -- what is the point of education? Why do we try to learn anything? What is the point of reading and going to labs and conducting experiments and acting in plays? Why do teachers give students books? The knowledge is the reward. Where does standardized testing and CORE curriculum fit into all of this? The elders tell you to stay in school because education is the most important thing -- it will be your ticket to a secure and better life. I play a lot of music, but I do it for fun. I teach for fun, and for the love of knowledge. But the idea that I will make more money because of my education has become laughable to me. There's the humor. The reward? The knowledge is the reward.