32. The Whole Village

The teachers assigned to teach your child in school are not the only people to teach your child. You know that. We mostly teach your child how to do schoolwork. We sometimes make valiant efforts to include the rest of life in our curriculum, and we succeed to varying degrees. But no matter how hard we try, school is only school. The textbooks, even if they are called, Mathematics Around Us or Science in Everyday Life, are really only textbooks.
There’s an African (I’d be more specific, but I don’t know which part of Africa I mean) proverb: “It takes a whole village to raise one child.” And it does. We teachers specialize, and many of us know things about children and learning that others in our village (i.e., town, city, state, nation) have forgotten or never knew. But children don’t necessarily know what to learn from whom (neither do adults), and some members of our community are less in touch with childhood than others.
Sometimes we ask members of the community to come into our classrooms and tell about what they do. If we’re lucky (and we often are), the community members know how to talk to and with children. If not, speakers will either address children as if they were totally ignorant or as if they were adults. I’ve seen both approaches, and it doesn’t take children long to classify a speaker as effective or ineffective.
If a speaker is effective, a wonderful thing happens. Children get to see a connection between school and the rest of the world. I’ve had a dentist, a lawyer, an oceanographer, a salesperson, a surveyor – people from many lines of work – speak to my classes about what they do, and show them, when possible. I’ve had people come in to talk about what life was like for them as children – even an 85-year-old man who had vivid memories of his grandfather telling him about life in the early 1800’s.
The question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” can be an overwhelming question. I wanted to be a cowboy. Later, getting more realistic, I wanted to be a doctor, then United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union, then something even more exciting, rewarding, and important, which I ended up doing for over twenty years. I never once thought of writing about parenting and teaching until I was forty-five years old, but I ended up doing that, too. We adults often don’t know what we want to “be” as we grow. Maybe a more appropriate question for children might be, “What are some of the things you think you might like to do during your life?”
I’m grateful to the people who spoke to my classes about their lives. Most of them seemed to enjoy doing it, and to be comfortable and effective in speaking with children. I’m sure the experience was educational for them. With a little thought, and a little calling around, we can continue to mobilize our villages to help raise our children.

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