Educating With a Whole Heart

A father propped against a windswept beach sand dune labors to breathe under fogged moonlight. His young son presses hard against him to stay warm. The man is dying. A world obliterated by nuclear holocaust, they have each other, alone on the shore of a lifeless ocean. The father fears for his boy. Prospects of survival vacillate between slim and none. Can goodness yet exist in this ghoulish hell? Will goodness find his little boy? The father whispers, “You have my whole heart. You always did.” Cormac McCarthy calls his apocalyptic novel The Road, a love letter to his son. The scene above instructs our love. Love presses demands upon our thoughts and actions.

The job of a school administrator is not easy when done right. The love of an administrator pains his own heart when lived right. What is right and what is wrong? A wise man sets his compass before the journey. I serve a rural community. Small family businesses pepper our lake pocked wooded county. Commuters sacrifice an hour’s drive to Madison, Wisconsin. The public school system of Montello is the second largest employer in the area. Honorable men and women covet these positions. Their work ensures food on the table and puts flesh to hopes and dreams. By definition we serve two constituencies, adults and children. The perceived needs of these parties conflict more than one might think. How can we best honor adults without compromising our mission to children?

America spends 550 billion dollars per year on public elementary and secondary education. We invest on average $10,658 per pupil each year. And guess what? We need more. Thomas Sowell said, “The first lesson of economics is scarcity:  there is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.” When local schools become a target of economic convenience, school leadership must police itself. We must prepare to say no to adult stakeholders when the school mission is compromised. Every public dollar marinates with the sweat of someone’s brow. We cannot view revenues, grants, and windfalls as easy money, or worse, our money. Our fiduciary mandate compels us to choose our staff, our vendors, and our partners wisely without consideration for political expedience. America’s 550 billion dollar investment screams one paramount truth, our children are America’s greatest asset.

School leaders, never forget your mission, Remember the words of the father to his son? “You have my whole heart. You always did.” It’s all about the kids. Period. Some mission statements say it better than others but our kids deserve our whole heart. Every item of every action plan must answer this question, how does this advance the cause of our children? Every fiduciary decision must embrace our children’s best interests. School funding changed markedly under the state’s Walker administration. We feel the keen edge of local obligation to our schools. An upcoming referendum will define our public school investment and how we nurture it.

Dr. Feuerstein, the eminent cognitive psychologist, said of students, “You don’t impose on them because you want them to be like you. You impose on them because you love them.” What parent doesn’t dream about their child’s future? Who among us doesn’t wish a better life for our kids? Of course we do. The classroom affords a vehicle for those dreams and aspirations like none other. Gender, race, creed, and status bow to equity of opportunity, the embrace of full humanity. Yes, we teach about the physical world, the world of ideas, the world of possibilities. Our children master skills to seize the power of choice as adults. That knowledge, that ability to think, that drive to create is vital. Its importance cannot be overemphasized. But love generates committed interconnections in the learning community. Feuerstein put it this way, “I want people to be dependent on the others, to be related to the others, to help the others, and to be helped by others.” Citizens, parents, students, and staff:  we are a community. We are related to each other and we share a common purpose, to love our children with a whole heart.

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