"The job that I want to teach him is how to live."
"Vivre c'est le métier que je veux lui apprendre" (the job that I want to teach him is how to live). What we have to offer our children (based on the wisdom gained from our own life experience) is "how to live." But how does one teach others how to live? It is primarily through living together and doing all sorts of things. Certain moments arise, moreover, which are uniquely "teachable moments." In a conversation with a parent this week, I was reminded of the crucial importance of recognizing these teachable moments, of being ready for them, and then jumping right in with an appropriate "lesson" (perhaps using a Socratic method). Each of us during the course of the week has at least one teachable moment with our children/students, but I think that we are frequently caught unprepared or we shy away from the task. Here's a beautiful example (taken from Will O' the Mill by Robert Louis Stevenson, which I read for some of you at the parent meeting) of a father who, although he is reluctant at first, seizes a teaching moment with his son Will:
"The Mill where Will lived with his adopted parents stood in a falling valley between pinewoods and great mountains. Above, hill after hill, soared upwards until they soared out of the depth of the hardiest timber, and stood naked against the sky. Some way up, a long grey village lay like a seam or a ray of vapour on a wooded hillside; and when the wind was favourable, the sound of the church bells would drop down, thin and silvery, to Will. Below, the valley grew ever steeper and steeper, and at the same time widened out on either hand; and from an eminence beside the mill it was possible to see its whole length and away beyond it over a wide plain, where the river turned and shone, and moved on from city to city on its voyage towards the sea.
One evening he asked the miller where the river went.
'It goes down the valley,' answered he, 'and turns a power of mills - six score mills, they say, from here to Unterdeck - and is none the wearier after all. And then it goes out into the lowlands, and waters the great corn country, and runs through a sight of fine cities (so they say) where kings live all alone in great palaces, with a sentry walling up and down before the door. And it goes under bridges with stone men upon them, looking down and smiling so curious in the water, and living folks leaning their elbows on the wall and looking over too. And then it goes on and on, and down through marshes and sands, until at last it falls into the sea, where the ships are that bring parrots and tobacco from the Indies. Ay, it has a long trot before it as it goes singing over our weir, bless its heart!'
'And what is the sea?' asked Will.
'The sea!' cried the miller. 'Lord help us all, it is the greatest thing God made! That is where all the water in the world runs down into a great salt lake. There it lies, as flat as my hand and as innocent-like as a child; but they do say when the wind blows it gets up into water-mountains bigger than any of ours, and swallows down great ships bigger than our mill, and makes such a roaring that you can hear it miles away upon the land. There are great fish in it five times bigger than a bull, and one old serpent as long as our river and as old as all the world, with whiskers like a man, and a crown of silver on her head.'
Will thought he had never heard anything like this, and he kept on asking question after question about the world that lay away down the river, with all its perils and marvels, until the old miller became quite interested himself, and at last took him by the hand and led him to the hilltop that overlooks the valley and the plain. The sun was near setting, and hung low down in a cloudless sky. Everything was defined and glorified in golden light. Will had never seen so great an expanse of country in his life; he stood and gazed with all his eyes. He could see the cities, and the woods and fields, and the bright curves of the river, and far away to where the rim of the plain trenched along the shining heavens. An over-mastering emotion seized upon the boy, soul and body; his heart beat so thickly that he could not breathe; the scene swam before his eyes; the sun seemed to wheel round and round, and throw off, as it turned, strange shapes which disappeared with the rapidity of thought, and were succeeded by others. Will covered his face with his hands, and burst into a violent fit of tears; and the poor miller, sadly disappointed and perplexed, saw nothing better for it than to take him up in his arms and carry him home in silence.
From that day forward Will was full of new hopes and longings...." (END)