BY GERRY CHIDIAC
Lessons in Learning
In his book Horton Hears A Who, Dr. Seuss reminds us, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Being mindful of this is one of the keys to finding joy and fulfilment in life. Everyone we meet, above all else, is a person. Each of us is worthy of dignity and respect. The more we embrace this truth about ourselves, the more we can see it in our neighbours.
We live in a society that loves to put labels on people, however. In education, we say “That child is gifted. That child is autistic and that one is dyslexic.”
The truth, however, is that these terms don’t define the person, they only give us information about how they process the world around them.
Each person is an individual, unique and gifted unto themselves. The fact that different people see the world differently allows us to find new and creative ways to solve problems.
It’s strongly suspected, for example, that Albert Einstein was somewhere in the autism spectrum, that Leonardo da Vinci had dyslexia and Thomas Edison exhibited characteristics of attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). What we know for certain is that they were extraordinary people, just like each one of us.
I love telling my students, especially the ones who struggle with traditional academics, that the world needs them, with their unique gifts.
Thank goodness everyone is not a teacher like I am! We need builders, inventors, people who can fix things and people who draw out the best in each other.
Teaching with this perspective allows me to make discoveries every day. What new insights into global issues will my students teach me as we look at geopolitical and historical aspects of the world? What unique perspectives will they take on a short story we read? How will they approach a math problem, given their particular thought processes?
Every class, every interaction, has the potential to provide deeper insights into life.
We can embrace this same concept on a global scale. Some cultures stress co-operation, some stress individualism. This can cause conflict, but when we learn to listen and show respect for different world views, it brings life into balance.
The fact is that even though every person is different, there’s an essence within each of us that unites us as members of the human family. The more I live, the more I’m convinced of the truth of this.
Over the last several years, I’ve taken up driving an airport shuttle. It seemed like the obvious choice of a language teacher on summer holidays. While it’s always enjoyable to practise speaking French and German, driving shuttle gives me an opportunity to hear the stories of others, especially those who aren’t from my community and those who work outside the field of education. This allows me to be the student, learning to see the world from the amazing and unique perspective of every person I meet.
Regardless of how we look, where we’re from, what language we speak, how young or old we are, our gender or the way we process information, we’re all people. It’s such a beautiful irony that one of the things we have in common is that each of us is so unique.
Perhaps it’s time to begin to move beyond our fear of one another and embrace what makes us human. Everyone has a story to tell. Yes, we have struggles, we all experience pain and we all face challenges, but we’re all here on this beautiful Earth together.
From the heart of the Congo to Hollywood, from refugee camps to bank towers, a person is a person, a wonderful and amazing gift to the world.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. Check out his website here. Find him on Facebook. Or on Twitter @GerryChidiac