I have finally confirmed my feelings of inadequacy. You see, my whole life, I have nothing but a cook. Furthermore, the people whom I give credit for some of my accomplishments in life are nothing but cooks as well. And I feel like I need to address this because I owe an apology to some and am owed restitution from others.
First, I need to take my father to task for not literally being a chef. He was an educator himself, so he should have known better than to simply cook dinner every night. He should have taken the food he bought at Waldbaum’s every Sunday morning and come up with creative and innovative ways of serving it for dinner instead of merely cooking it up and serving it. Just about every meal we had as kids featured a piece of meat that was baked or grilled; a grain such as rice or starch such as potatoes, which were baked, boiled, or microwaved; and frozen vegetables, such as peas and carrots. Clearly, he was locked into the concept of compliance and did not rebel against the system that so oppressively dictated that he provide a nutritionally balanced meal for his children. To this day, whenever I find myself serving a meal that consists of a protein, a green vegetable, and a starch, I feel an enormous amount of shame for only having been taught how to be a cook and not a chef.
My AA baseball coach, Mr. Dimino, was a huge reason I ever hit a pitch. Prior to being on his team, I was not only able to make contact, but I was incredibly scared of anything thrown my way. We all took batting practice once a week and whenever I was up, he’d whing the ball over the plate and shout the same reminders of what we’d practiced in previous weeks: stay in the box, hold the bat tight, watch the ball, swing before it gets to the plate. And no matter how many times I swung and missed, he insisted I try again until my time at batting practice was over. I used to be proud of the fact that in my first at bat in our first scrimmage that season, I doubled into right-center field and later that season would hit the only home run I would ever hit in Little League. But now I know that’s not something to be proud of because I was taught using drill-and-kill methods that kept me in the bottom of the order and had he let me take ownership of my baseball, I would have been a more creative hitter. Being a solid contact hitter is neither anything to be proud of or brag about, no matter how bad I was when I started.
I played the piano consistently from the time I was in the fifth grade until I graduated from college and during that time I had two teachers: Mrs. Stein and Ms. Klosterman. Mrs. Stein taught me starting in elementary school until my senior year, with Ms. Klosterman taking over during my senior year at Loyola. Much like Mr. Dimino’s batting practice, every one of my piano lessons started with my working through scales and whenever I started a new piece, I had to identify the key in which it would be played. And while I often got to choose the piece I was playing, I was never taught how to write music. I used to count playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata for my final recital in college as one of my proudest achievements in college, but now I realize that all I was doing was playing someone else’s work and not being a maker. The lack of a maker space here means that I was cheated out of an authentic experience.
As a teacher, I clearly need to apologize for working within an abusive 19th Century industrial-based system. I’m reminded of a student in my class a number of years ago (whose name shall remain anonymous so as to protect the dignity of my victim) who had problems with attendance and discipline that had landed her in my summer school class the previous year. When she took my sophomore English class, we knew one another pretty well and I considered that a huge factor in her working hard and generally staying out of trouble. When I ran into her on the last day of school that year and told her that her grade for the year was a C+, she gave me a huge high-five. She has since graduated and I want to find out where she is so that I can tell her that I was wrong and she should not be proud of her improvement in her grade from year to year because grades are arbitrary, they send the wrong message, and don’t show anything beyond the accumulation of points for assignments that are quite often inauthentic and punitive.
The biggest shame, however, is that I have been ruining my own child. Awhile back, I was a guest on a podcast called “My Star Wars Story” and when the host, Scott, asked me what Star Wars item I cherished the most, I told him that it was the Lego Millennium Falcon that Brett and I had put together. My parents bought it for him when he was six years old and over the course of several weekends, we worked on the Falcon, eventually finishing it. When he’s not playing with it, it has a prominent place on his toy shelves. Now all I want to do is smash it to pieces because of the harm I did him. Can you imagine the cruelty of making him follow the directions? It’s my failure as a parent to not let him create his own Millennium Falcon from scratch and I am a horrible person for thinking it would be cool to assemble the spaceship together because I’m excited that my son likes Star Wars as much as I do. That’s not father-son bonding; it’s child abuse, plain and simple.
Thankfully, being a Connected Educator™ has shown me the error of my ways as both a teacher and a parent and I hope that I will somehow be able to make up all of this time I have lost and replace my false accomplishments in life with experiences and achievements that live up to all of the authentic innovative maker-based personalized creative endeavors that the 21st Century demands.