Ask anyone who really knows me and they will tell you that Mr. A is an unabashed history and genealogy buff. It’s not a new thing. I was always fascinated by my family tree and, over the years, I have accumulated a lot of knowledge regarding my family heritage and origins. As a young child, I was often frustrated by my parents’ inability to provide the answers to my questions about the “where, who and when” of our ancestors. You can imagine how I welcomed the unlimited access to registries, archives, maps, and records on the worldwide web. In my family, I am the “keeper of the keys” when it comes to all things ancestral.
I am also a collector of old family photos and books. I collect them and I display them in my home because, to me, it’s important to remember all of these people, who they were, what they thought, what they taught, and how they lived. “When a society or a civilization perishes, one condition can always be found. They forgot where they came from.” This insightful quotation from American poet, Carl Sandberg, should speak to us today on a variety of levels because remembering is important in families, communities, nations – and in teaching.
In 1915, a series was published by The Ministry of Education called the Ontario Teachers’ Manuals. Years ago, my mother picked up the School Management volume at a local flea market and passed it along to me. I have read the whole thing a few times and I am always struck by the wisdom it still contains. Yes, it is dated and a bit anachronistic in places; however, what was true in 1915 is still true today in all the important ways. Take, for example, the importance of a “desire for improvement” on the part of children. Here is what School Management had to say in the early twentieth century:
“There are, no doubt, [children] who are troublesome, mischievous, exasperating, thoughtless, cruel, and untruthful; but these [children] are usually the products of evil training. Some teachers set up a higher standard for boys and girls in school than for themselves; they think that because a [child] plays truant, and lies about it, takes marbles from other children, robs orchards, destroys property, and fights, that [he or she] is hopelessly depraved. But many a [child] has committed some or all of these offenses and yet attained a fair degree of respectability in later life, because [he or she] found a teacher who believed in [his or her] desire for, and power to attain, a better self.”
Isn’t it fascinating that people have always known that a desire to improve must always have something or someone to inspire it? That someone (i.e., a teacher!) should not only represent that improved self, but should with care and sympathy assist students in their struggle for self-improvement. This is not a milquetoast mission and requires consistency, determination, brute strength at times, and honesty.
As the 1915 manual goes on to say, “a child must put forth effort to improve. Good intentions that are not supplemented by effort to realize them will never bring a child nearer to the desired goal”.
And there you go. What was once true is still true and our great-grandparents knew it. There is no replacement for good, old-fashioned hard work and effort!