Near the end of my mother’s 79th year, she fell and broke her hip. As the surgeon’s prepared to operate, a physical exam revealed she had lung cancer. My mother would not consent to chemotherapy, but instead, to a long series of radiation treatments. She looked at me and said, “I don’t want my hair to fall out and if the radiation doesn’t work, well, then its time to go.” We did not know it at the time, but she had only ten months to live.
My brother lived in the same city with her (I was a seven hour drive away) and immediately went about setting up the very best care for her he could. During the course of the next ten months, he put up a Herculean effort to help her heal. He drove her to her doctor’s appointments, assured she took her medicine, suggested new therapies, and spent many hours with her in her home. It was a beautiful thing that he did.
I, on the other hand, made visits whenever my schedule allowed. I called her frequently and every five or six weeks made a visit. In about the eighth month of her illness, she looked at me and sadly said, “I am trying and trying, but I am not getting any better.” A few days later when we were talking, I became aware that something had happened within her and while she did not say it, she had decided to die. I knew it was time to help her die rather than keep her alive.
My brother, on the other hand, would have nothing of it. He kept up his efforts to help her even though she began to reject some of them. Even on the day she died, he was trying things with the nurses to keep her alive and refused to hear from anyone that she was leaving. I bless him now for his love and devotion. But there was also such an intensity to save her life that he failed to see her wishes, honor her process or the inevitability of the time.
Outside of her house sat a magnificent maple. For maples, it was very old and it had been dying for a long time. We spent thousands of dollars trying to keep it alive. It had undergone all the latest treatments. It had guy wires placed in its branches to keep the massive limbs from ripping away in heavy winds. It was patched and treated for diseases over and over again.
Still, it kept dropping branches on the house and damaging the roof. Once an entire section ripped away leaving it with a pathetic appearance after having been so noble. It too was telling us that the time to help it die had come and yet we continued to try and keep it alive. Four years after my mother passed, a major storm destroyed it to such an extent that we had to finally have it taken down.
I have been thinking of these things lately because I believe that the current educational system that most of our children are enrolled in, is like an aged parent, a dying tree, whose time has come. Despite the warning signs, we continue to pour millions of dollars, and many more millions of hours of effort into saving it. Why? Everything has a life cycle. Everything. Why not accept that this system has lived its life most nobly. It grew into a magnificent tree. One that fed all of us, helped our country grow strong. The learning we gained helped to create many new industries, new businesses, and as we became the land of opportunity, the education system of the time was the main heart of that movement. But like every living system, its DNA does not allow for eternal life. Like in every system the context of its dynamic has moved on.
Sadly, very sadly, our children are the branches falling on our roof. The warning signs are everywhere: the drop out rates, low levels of engagement in the classroom, the cases of violence, depression, eating disorders, apathy. These are their efforts to tell us we need to plant a new tree. The current one is dying.
As I write these words, I feel doubt,
A springtime in education, is upon us. What if we took the dollars and the energy we have been spending in saving the “old tree “ and put it into co-creating the new seed to plant a new one? What if the DNA of the new seed, was created with the intention to yield a tree full of vitality, full of nourishing fruit for our young people? We are being called by the time to coalesce a collective new vision for education. One that rises to meet the real needs of today, including an inherent call by young people to a holistic education grounded in the full richness of life itself. We are standing at a crossroads but it is only a question of time before a storm takes out the old tree.
Close your eyes and imagine a glorious spring day. Take a deep breath. You might see a meadow with flowers and a forest alive with green growth, sunlight bathing the landscape, blossoms waving in the soft winds, calves jumping, lambs bleating. Everything seems young and fresh and there is an energy in the air that renews the spirit and is filled with the promise of new life. cynicsm, and a voice telling me that consciously creating and manifesting a new vision is impossible. Where do we choose to place our faith?
We are the creators. Will we again choose to re-create from our past limitations and outdated sense of the possible? Let us tap into the power of our deepest wisdom and the fullness of our skills and gifts to build and launch a new era in education. Let us think the unthinkable. And let us not do this without the voices of our children, for they still remember what it is to be whole.