And Elementary Education
I have a friend who teaches third grade. She has won many awards for being an excellent teacher but she always responds by saying "My students are my teachers."
My friend believes that all of her students are "incredibly smart." It doesn't matter that some of her students may not test well on standardized tests, and that a few of them have what educators call a learning disabilities. She doesn't like the phrase. She says that they is differently abled, not disabled.
She is influenced by the theories of Howard Gardner, the educational theorist at Harvard who specializes in education and cognition. Along with him, she believes that there are multiple forms of intelligence, and that each student is a unique blending of various forms. Here are eight forms identified by Gardner:
interpersonal (knowing the feelings of others)
naturalistic (knowing about nature)
My friend also knows that some people believe that there are only two forms of cognition worthy of respect: mathematical-logical; and verbal-linguistic. They think that bodily knowing and interpersonal knowing are simply abilities, but not forms of cognition. She disagrees. She thinks it is very silly to reduce cognition to words and numbers.
My friend is also a religious. She combines Gardner's theories of multiple intelligence with a process or pan-en-theistic understanding of God.
She does not think that God has a body separate from the universe. "The universe is God's body," she says. But she thinks that God has a personal side and that God has aims and intentions. For her God is akin to a Mother in whose womb the universe lives and moves and has its being.
In the spirit of Whitehead she believes that this Mother is both active in the world as an indwelling lure toward the fullness of life within each living being. and also receptive of the world as someone who share in the joys and sufferings of all living beings. For her God is like the Buddhist Bodhisattva Kuan Yin or, for that matter, like Christ.
If you ask my friend if God knows things, she says: "Yes, God is very wise" and then adds, with a twinkle in her eye, "God has eight forms of intelligence."
Of course she is referring the thought of Howard Gardner, but she is also very serious. In her words: "God is filled with musical knowing and rhythmic knowing and nature-centered knowing and bodily knowing. God doesn't just sit in the sky thinking about things in logical-mathematical ways, God feels things and knows things through the feeling them."
If you ask ask her what she means by God feeling things, she refers to process theology and its idea that God prehends the world, moment by moment, with subjective forms (emotional tones) of empathy.
If you ask her how God might even feel things in a bodily way, she adds: "God feels things bodily, because every time anything moves in the universe God is moved, too. Even though God doesn't have a body, God is very physical."
She points to Whitehead's saying in Process and Reality: "Love neither rules, nor is it unmoved." (343) If God is love, she says, God must be moved. Every movement of the heart and mind, even in the smallest of children, moves God. Not a sparrow falls from the sky that God is not moved.
She thinks God is especially good at interpersonal knowing. She sees interpersonal knowing as having two qualities: state-sharing and perspective-taking. "When you know another person in a personal way," she says, "you share in their joys and sorrows and you understand what it is like to be inside their skin."
A Philosophy of Teaching
When it comes to teaching third grade, then, ideas like these guide her teaching philosophy:
Each person is a creative blending of many of the multiple intelligences.
Each form of intelligence is a way of touching and being touched by God.
God is a lure, deep within each person, for blending the many intelligences into wisdom.
The highest form of wisdom is love.
If you ask her what kinds of love are important she says kindness to other people, respect for animals, a love of the earth, a love of ideas, a love of life. She hopes that her students will grow in the arts of love.
This is why she is such a gifted teacher. She approaches each of her students a whole person. Her aim is not to offer standardized education, but rather personalized education. She believes that the purpose of a teacher is to be a midwife, helping God give birth to the fulness of life within each student. Of course knows that this takes initiative on the student's part, too. "That's the easy part," she says. "Students want to learn if only you give them a chance."
Most of her students come from urban settings, and they have not had many opportunities to be close to animals, or to grow plants, or to swim in rivers and lakes. She tries to give them these kinds of opportunities and also to realize that the natural world is creative. When they draw leaves and trees she tells them: "You are collaborating with nature's creativity."
One day a boy asked her: 'Can nature draw?" She said: "Yes, of course, just look at the photograph of the waterfall. See all the shapes and colors? That's nature drawing." It occurred to me then, and it occurs to me now, that she's helping the boy draw God, too. Her third grade teaching is fulfilling one of the deepest yearnings within the Mother of the universe. It is not that we always draw straight lines. It is that we draw the truth of our lives, moment by moment, and thereby bring beauty to the universe. My friend is helping her students draw their truths and find their beauty. She is a teacher.