75. Dulcinea

In 1969, having recently seen “Man of La Mancha,” I was full of zeal and commitment. When I heard my first speech welcoming new teachers, I was all ears when the speaker, an eloquent nun, said we must see the Dulcinea in every child – the inner person who can be so much better than the outer person we already saw. We had a sacred mission to reach the unreachable child. I was inspired by the speech, and recalled the words of John F. Kennedy: “I do not shrink from the challenge; I welcome it.”
I hurled down my gauntlet and began my quest. I would travel the road of the knight errant, ready to right all kinds of unrightable wrongs. Somewhere along the road, though, I met some other knights. Like me, they strove for a better world. Like me, they wanted to be sure to see the potential for success in every child. Unlike me, they could distinguish between a giant and a windmill.
Though I’m enjoying this allegory, it will have to pause here. I’m talking about the real world. In it, the search for a child’s (or adult’s) inner light may distract us from clearly perceiving who the person is. If you’re like those of us, 50% or more, who have misread people and made important decisions we wish we hadn’t, you probably have an idea of what I mean. There are lots of things going on inside people, and we need to see as much as we can – even the parts we may wish weren’t there.
I truly believe that inside every child is someone who wants to find out about the world, wants to become better at doing things, wants to find more and more effective ways to reach out to other people. That’s the faith that keeps me going sometimes when my teaching doesn’t seem to be doing what I want it to do. It must be hard to get through a day of teaching or parenting if you don’t have a little of that faith.
But there is also a necessary awareness that the vision of the child as eager learner does not encompass the whole child. Some teachers, especially some young teachers (including myself, as a young teacher), let the impossible dream take over. They are deaf to “I can’t,” blind to discouraged looks. I suggest that our idealism stands a better chance of reaching our goals if we avoid the windmills, and make sure we spend our energy dealing with the real giants.

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