Today is my dad’s birthday. It won’t matter that I announce it here, partly because he doesn’t read this, but mostly because as a 77 year old farmer in the middle of seeding, he likely won’t stop to celebrate it.
But I am going to do that because my dad is one of the most amazing people.
He grew up a bilingual second generation immigrant, translating for his dad, fluent in both Finnish and English. Even with few opportunities to speak it anymore, he hasn’t lost the language at all.
He attended the one room school just north of the farm, riding horses, and raising cattle and chickens. Even through decades of technological change, he is still full-time farming.
When he was young, in the wintertime he worked construction for the Gardiner Dam. He peeled potatoes the first year, too young to wield any equipment. But after that, ran trucks behind the mole. He can drive and fix anything that moves.
He was an RM counsellor for many years. He’s still a volunteer on the board for the museum in town.
He and mom taught social dancing in the schools, and were members of the Scandinavian Club in Saskatoon, enjoying the dances there. He can still cut a rug with the best of them.
He was a pilot, getting his licence in 1967 and flying all the way until 2000, at times volunteering with search and rescue. Tracking flights and online flight simulators still keep him occupied when there’s no curling on the tv.
He’s owned every kind of vintage truck and car around, and his yellow Karmann Ghia was a staple with the Volkswagen people every year at Cruise Night. All car questions still go straight to dad.
He’s kind and caring and a crokinole phenom. There’s so much more to list, but you get the idea: my dad is hands-down one of the smartest, hard-working, and handiest people I know.
And, like so many men of his generation, he has accomplished all of this with a grade 8 education when he left school to work full-time on the farm.
Dad has never placed limits on what he could do, what he could learn, or what he could achieve. When we talk in education about growth mindsets and lifelong learners, that’s him, and no doubt a generation of people just like my dad. Learning did not stop when their schooling did.
There’s a lot of internet chatter from education folks all over North America about disengaged students during the pandemic. Article after article, the reasons are detailed, suggestions provided, all of them totally valid.
Absolutely, it is difficult to compare today’s children to my dad’s time, or even to my own childhood. There’s an expression: an idle mind will seek a toy. I was used to being bored and having to find my own things to do on the farm, with only my siblings around. “Bored” has never been a large part of modern kids’ highly-scheduled lives. For us, the party line on the telephone still existed, so technology overload, let alone technology disparities, didn’t exist. We had to use our imaginations to make our own fun and no matter the season, we did: chasing snakes and finding kittens in the spring, dingy races and play-forts in the summer, making straw-houses in the fields after the combine had gone through in the fall, and cross country skiing and shinny on the slough in the winter. Self-isolation was our way of life.
I just finished Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed and although it is about the social conditioning and societal expectations of women, there are many lessons in there. This part about boredom caught my attention. “When we are bored, we ask ourselves: What do I want to do with myself? We are guided toward certain things: a pen and paper, a guitar, the forest in the backyard, a soccer ball, a spatula. The moment after we don’t know what to do with ourselves is the moment we find ourselves. Right after itchy boredom is self-discovery. But we have to hang in there long enough without bailing.”
There were many great ideas in the book that made me draw parallels to education. In fact, she begins the book with a story about a tamed cheetah called Tabitha.
Day after day this wild animal chases dirty pink bunnies down the well-worn, narrow path they cleared for her. Never looking left or right. Never catching that damn bunny, settling instead for a store-bought steak and the distracted approval of sweaty strangers. Obeying the zookeeper’s every command, just like Minnie, the Lab she’s been trained to believe she is. Unaware that if she remembered her wildness - just for a moment - she could tear those zookeepers to shreds.”
A little girl asks if Tabitha misses the wild?
The zookeeper smiled and said, “No. Tabitha was born here. She doesn’t know any different. She’s never even seen the wild.”
But if she could ask Tabitha what she is feeling?
I knew what she’d tell me. She’d say, “Something’s off about my life. I feel restless and frustrated. I have this hunch that everything was supposed to be more beautiful than this. I imagine fenceless, wide-open savannas. I want to run and hunt and kill. I want to sleep under an ink-black, silent sky filled with stars. It’s all so real I can taste it.
Then she’d look back at the cage, the only home she’s ever known. She’d look at the smiling zookeepers, the bored spectators, and her panting, bouncing, begging best friend, the Lab.
Every time I read that part, it makes me think deeper.
Coincidentally, this quote by Stephen Downes popped across my timeline through George Couros this morning. This was, and more than ever still is, the goal: “We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.”
At some point we will move beyond this emergency-teaching, and a new normal will begin. It will not be the same, at least not for a long time, so examining student engagement will be a priority.
But let’s say it all ended today. That my grade 7s never set foot in a classroom again, not dissimilar to my dad’s experience.
Would they take part in local government?
Would they learn to keep a business going?
Would they learn to fix things that break?
Would they learn to fly (literally or figuratively)?
Would they know they were a cheetah and meant for the wild?
Or would they stay in the cage of what they believe education is, not looking away from the pink bunny or running off the path?
When we started this alternate learning months ago, our Director of Education Lori Jeschke emphasized that Learning Is Everywhere.
That’s a lesson I learned from my dad, and one that I hope our students are taking to heart as they learn at home too.
Oh, and if mom hands you this to read when you come in from the field tonight dad, Happy Birthday!!!
Perpetual amateur. Lifelong learner. Vice-Principal. Teacher. Musician. Mom. Annnnd if you're reading this, then I'm still a blogger.