Monday, May 7, 2012

Why Choose The Road Less Travelled?

Over the weekend, I got an e-mail from an old acquaintance who knows me from my politically active days of yore, fuming at me for my choice of working at my daughter's school library rather than being up in arms and on the front lines about the political scandals of the day.

First of all, who says I'm not occasionally fuming?  Just ask Mr. ReddHedd how difficult it is to watch any news program with me pretty much any day of the week.

But, more to the point, since when is helping to educate children something that anyone ought to be chastened for doing?  How is introducing these children to really good books -- the sort that make them think and ask questions and perhaps even learn something about themselves and the world around them -- a step down?

Certainly, I'm not on conference calls with the White House or Congressional staffers on a constant basis these days.  And I no longer have national news media folks stealing my research work and passing it off as their own without giving me full credit.  I'll be honest:  the lack of hubbub in my current days does get a little dull from time to time.

But I don't miss being lied to about what will be accomplished or even attempted on issues that truly matter to me, such as child poverty, at risk kids and early childhood education and nutrition.   And I don't miss all the internal squabbling and positioning among folks in DC which lead to absolutely nothing but jockeying for position on who gets to stand closest to the teevee camera in the next news cycle.

If issues ever really got tackled and resolved, there would be an entire class of people inside the Beltway whose livelihoods and blathering would be rendered obsolete.  Which is exactly why most issues never get resolved, in my opinion:  the Beltway set has too much to gain from the way things are.

This year, I've managed to not only get kids to read exceptional books, but we have had real, in-depth, thoughtful discussions about them both in class and out of it.  I have one student who was never a reader who has found that books truly can be magical and I never see this student without one now.  

That matters.

Sometimes, working locally can be just as important as banging heads on a national stage.  It may not be immediate gratification, sure.  And I may never know what fruit will be borne from my work in the library this year, at least not for years and years to come.  

You start the ripples out into the pond and you never know on what distant shore they may finally touch...or how big the waves may become that began so long ago as a tiny nudge in the right direction.

But if I have been able to help even one child to learn to love reading, and to reach beyond his or her preconceived notions about the world and ask wider, more in-depth questions about their own lives or those of others in our community and the broader world?  Then it will have been worth it.

I have come to believe that life isn't about absolute answers.  It is in asking the questions that we truly learn who we are at our core, and in reaching for the next answer that we stretch ourselves to become better as well.  But only if we are never satisfied and keep pushing and asking and reaching for something even better for ourselves and our families.

Reading teaches you to ask the next questions.  And to yearn for some new version of "a more perfect union."  Because life is ever-changing, our questions about it should be as well.

Growing up, my mind was fed on Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Once and Future King and all of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and countless other classics and contemporary books which made me constantly ask myself questions about everything around me.  I had teachers who taught me not to simply accept what I was told, but to make sure I double-checked original source material to make certain what was being said was accurate. (It often was not, especially when it came to politicians and, as anyone who knows me can tell you, a liar is one someone that does not sit well with me.  Never has.)

If I can get just one child to ask "who, what, where, when and why, and prove it" going forward when confronted with claims that don't sound quite right?  This will be well worth it.

For me, it has never been about the notoriety.  Not even in my heady C-Span days was it about promoting myself, it was about being able to ask the questions and make the points that needed to be made on the issues that truly mattered.  It has always been about actually doing some good, something tangible and solid instead of perpetuating the constant din and getting absolutely nowhere with it.

What the next step after this will be?  No idea yet.  But I am enjoying where I am at the moment.  And my family is enjoying time with me not having to be tethered to my computer, phone and various other devices 24/7.  That has enormous value for me as well.

All this to say, tend to your own priorities in the way that you think best moves you forward.  But respect that I have the right and the need to also tend to mine in my own way.

(Photo by Christy Hardin Smith.)

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