From the moment we’re born, we learn from those around us. Our parents or caregivers, extended family and friends, and our environments teach us how to live and behave. Some of the things that we do are instinctual, but the rest is a product of life and experience—most importantly, of the people who help shape our lives.
The fundamental question we’re charged with as educators is what we should teach. What do kids need to learn? Traditionally, school’s been a place to build knowledge—the subjects or knowledge domains that we work in are vehicles for delivering facts and information that lay the foundation for future pursuits. But knowledge alone can’t ensure that we use what we learn the right ways, to find meaning and fulfillment. All the knowledge in the world, in the wrong hands, is dangerous. We have to use knowledge and learning for good. We all have to learn what it takes to contribute.
With my mother’s recent passing, I’ve been thinking a lot about all she’s contributed to my life and others’. It’s more than I could ever find words to describe. When I take a step back and relive our experiences, the time that we shared and her presence around me, in their coming together it’s clear that she gave me the greatest gift anyone could ever contribute: she taught me to contribute, in my way, to the world. She did it by helping me learn who I am, what’s important, what gives my life purpose, and why. She taught me the power of connecting with others, and helped me seek knowledge that would add to my life. She showed me how to communicate and collaborate with others, think critically and creatively, and stay committed to my goals. She gave me the tools to put good in the world, and to lead a fulfilling and meaningful life.
My mother didn’t have a curriculum to work from, a set list of goals and objectives to meet. What she had was a real, profound understanding of what it means to succeed, and how to help people do it. She provided a loving, supportive environment, with high expectations for me and my siblings. She let us make choices and set our own goals, and then guided the way on our paths to achieving them. Hers was a human, contributive curriculum—it continues to teach us to add to the world.
I’ve been reminded that people are what matter most. Not what people know, but who people are. We’re put on this earth to make people’s lives better. My mother lived up to the challenge and more. She helped us find self-understanding, connection, knowledge, competency—a meaningful life. They’re what everyone wants for the people they love, and so the answer to what we should teach in our schools.
A school that guides students to success and well-being is a school that’s well versed in my mother’s curriculum.
In loving memory of Beverley J. McEachen (1934-2021).