Real Education is Human | IDEA

Real Education is Human

Posted by Melia Dicker on Nov 01, 2011 - 06:42 AM

Today's theme for Blog for IDEC 2012 Week is "Real education is human." 

My most recent experience in the classroom comes from Reschool Yourself, a project I undertook in 2008 to reboot my life by reliving my education. I spent a week in each grade in my childhood schools, attending classes with the current students and writing about the process. "Human education" brings to mind something I witnessed in the third grade classroom at El Verano Elementary in Sonoma, California.

When I was a student at El Verano (the first time around), the school was predominantly white, with a few Mexican children in each class. Now the demographics have flipped, and there are a handful of white kids in classrooms that are mostly Latino. The majority of students were born in the states and speak English as well as they speak Spanish, but there are a few English Language Learners as well. When teachers who don't speak Spanish are charged with teaching children who don't speak English, it presents a big communication challenge.

Ms. Alessio was teaching third grade back when I was a kid, and she's still going strong today. When I sat in on her class for Reschool Yourself, a boy named Juan had recently enrolled, having just moved from Mexico. He didn't speak a word of English, and he and Ms. Alessio relied heavily on the bilingual students to translate for him. While he did math like a whiz, every other subject was all but impossible given the language barrier. Juan stared into space a lot, because so much of the class activity was happening in English.

One fall morning started out like any other, with announcements over the PA system. It was an early dismissal day, and Juan's classmates translated this for him. A few minutes after announcements had ended, Juan suddenly burst into tears and sat at his desk crying quietly. Ms. Alessio looked startled. Before she could say anything, the students seated near Juan were out of their desks and clustering around him, speaking in soothing voices. "Qué pasa?" they asked him. "What's wrong?"

It took the third graders a little while to find out that Juan didn't know how the bus schedule worked during early dismissal days, and he was worried about getting home. "It's OK," a girl named Tere told him in Spanish, stroking his hair. "I'm on your bus, and I'll help you." Juan nodded and wiped away his tears.

I was stunned as I watched this scene unfold. I couldn't imagine it happening when I was a kid. A boy who suddenly started crying in class would have been met with quizzical sidelong looks, and maybe even uncomfortable giggles. But Ms. Alessio's third graders acted on the spot with compassion. They saw their classmate having a hard time and did what they could to help him. It seemed like second nature to them: Several had younger siblings whom they helped care for, and some may have had parents for whom they had to translate. 

Human education is about putting compassion first. It's about noticing the people around you and putting aside your own agenda so you can meet them where they are. That morning in class, everything stopped for one student who was struggling. Ms. Alessio could have plowed ahead with the lessons for the day, and the other students could have ignored Juan, but they chose to put their humanity first. I didn't retain anthying we did in class later that day, but I won't ever forget the lesson in human education.

IDEC 2012 is about human education. Register by November 7 for the Early Bird Discount.

See "Blog for IDEC 2012 Week: Real Education Is..." for other posts on this topic.