"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving and the Education of the Heart

Happy Thanksgiving!

I was wondering how to tie education and Thanksgiving into a post and this story keeps wanting to be written. It doesn't have to do with educational mandates or testing. Rather, it is a story about the education of the heart.

My dear grandfather was in a nursing home on Thanksgiving 2008. He was 101 years old, and while his mind was in amazingly good shape for a person that age, his body was wearing out. He was frail and needed help. Even with his suffering, he was as gracious and positive as he had always been. If I had to describe my grandfather, I would describe him as the ultimate gentleman who looked for the best in a person and minimized the faults. I am truly blessed to have had such a wonderful man as my grandfather, and my children were indeed lucky to have experienced the love of a caring great-grandfather.

We lived about seven hours away and didn't get to see him as much as we wanted. We decided we would visit him for Thanksgiving in the nursing home, so we packed up the family and the dog, and off we went.

The dining room looked very festive, and even with my younger son's apprehension about a Thanksgiving meal in a nursing home, the food was quite good. The tables were decked with tablecloths and candles, and it was a nice touch for a holiday meal. They were reserved with the residents' names, and we were shown to our table by a member of the staff.

On each table was a piece of construction paper folded in half. On the front of each piece was a picture of a turkey made from a traced hand of a child. Opening it up, there was a lined piece of paper on which children practice handwriting. The message was from a second grader from St. Theresa's elementary school which is just around the corner from the Presbyterian nursing home. As I found out later, the second graders were responsible for making cards for the residents during the year's holidays.

My grandpa's note was from Kaleb, and it indicated he would be praying for the person who received his note and wished the reader a "Happy Thanksgiving". My grandfather was quite touched with the message and the card, and we took it back to his room after dinner. We propped it up on a table where he could see it and be reminded of prayers lifted up for him...by a stranger.

I wrote the school when we returned home to thank the second graders for remembering my grandfather and the other residents. I told them how much it touched my grandfather and for the first time, I witnessed the power of prayer. This power is intense, even if it is directed your way by people you don't know. My grandfather was overwhelmed by Kaleb's prayer, and I wanted the students to know how much this act of love and kindness impacted another person. I thanked the teacher for the activity and told the students they were indeed lucky to have such a wonderful adult in their lives to teach them this very important lesson...to pray and remember those who are hurting, either physically and/or mentally.

My grandfather died the following April, and I met the teacher at the wake. She noticed the obituary in the paper and shared it with the students. They were quite upset to learn of my grandfather's death and wanted to share their condolences. She said my letter was the first one the school had received since she had been doing this activity in 15 years. They were delighted to know how much their cards meant to the strangers for whom prayers were offered. In fact, Kaleb was able to visit my grandfather in March, just a month prior to his death, when the teacher delivered the St. Patrick's Day cards!

At the wake she gave me a collage of prayers for our extended family listed on construction paper flowers pasted on posterboard. This is one of my most treasured possessions.

Thanksgiving 2008 is my most memorable Thanksgiving...I don't remember the menus from many of my holiday dinners, but I will always remember the love in this particular Thanksgiving. I appreciate the teacher's and school's service to the spirit of strangers. This was a visible way for children to show the thankfulness they have for others and the understanding of the importance of each individual. That's the education of the heart. There is no mandate, testing assessment, or money needed to teach children what's most important in being a successful student or person. The government can't demand it. The student has to will it, nurture it, and become it under the guidance of adults who want to help shape the character of that student.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

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