Light a Candle, Tend the Flame… Keep the Faith
As we prepare to turn the calendar page at the end of this month, we will see the close of the first decade of the 21st century. Like all the other holiday seasons that have preceded this one, I enjoy the opportunity to gather with family and friends, reflect on the year just past, and anticipate what the new year holds. This is a time when I push a spiritual “reset” button. And, as we turn to a new decade the reflection takes on even larger significance than it does annually.
This is a sobering moment, in both my personal and professional life. I turned 60 this year and have experienced a decade of profound losses and exhilarating joys. For example, four days after my father died, during the visiting hours at the funeral home, our third granddaughter Reina Luz Goldstein was born.
Professionally, I feel great sadness and anger over the declining state of education over the past decade. While we have experienced extraordinary success at Lawrence and many other schools like Lawrence across the country, we left millions of children behind – ‘waiting for superman’ as it were.
At a recent family gathering I got into a conversation with someone who I admire enormously, love dearly, and have known since she was a child in school. Megan is a close family friend, a social worker in her mid-thirties, and godmother to Reina Luz. Having seen the movies Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere, I was talking to her about the state of the education industry. I expressed confusion and frustration about the current state of affairs in our nation’s schools, and anger at our collective failure to move the reading and literacy needle in any significant way over the last two decades among the nation’s neediest elementary school children.
I wondered out loud if the time and effort that so many of us have spent on education has really mattered if the illiteracy and drop-out rates have worsened during our tenure as educators. For example, we have the knowledge and the tools to screen every child in grades K–3 to determine whether or not they are acquiring requisite reading skills. We can determine what the obstacles are if they are if they are not learning to read, and we know how to adjust curriculum and instruction to overcome the obstacles.
At Lawrence’s Assessment Center we offer this screening free to any family in northeast Ohio who is worried about their child’s reading skills development. No child needs to fail in reading in our nation’s primary schools. The fact that we do not apply and use what we know means that we fail in our responsibilities to our children. Despite the fact that hundreds of children fail to negotiate literacy curriculum every year in Ohio’s schools, only about 50 or 60 students are screened in our program each year.
Our work at Lawrence School for students with learning differences has always been done with the hope that we can have an impact on teachers and children in other schools, and we have indeed had some impact in pockets around the country, but the dismal national failure rates persist.
My wise and dear friend then said something I treasure and carry with me to school every day: It was never my purpose, she admonished gently, to change the world of education, or the experience of students in distant schools.
“Your job, Lou,” she said, reminding me of how a Buddhist might look at it, “was to light a lamp and keep the flame burning in your small corner of the world.”
Megan’s words immediately reminded me of the many students, teachers, friends, families and supporters of our work here at Lawrence now and over the decades, who lit the lamp, helped to keep the flame alive, and illuminated our small corner of the world. For this and for the opportunity to serve and do my part in that process, I am humbled and deeply grateful.
As poet Steve Earle sings in his song God is God:
“I receive the blessings; that every day on earth’s another chance to get it right; Let this little light of mine shine and rage against the night.”
In a few short days, the winter Solstice will be upon us marking the sun’s greatest declination south of the Equator and, here in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest, darkest day of the year. My Roman ancestors called this day Dies Invicti Solis – ‘the day of the invincible sun.’
The ancients celebrated their faith in the sun’s return and in the promise of spring at the darkest moment of the year. They celebrated the solstice with lights and evergreens.
At Lawrence, we will take a two-week winter recess and, like many other schools, offer this time for our students and faculty to draw family and friends close. Many will celebrate this time of year with the most enduring symbols of the season – lights and evergreens.
Whether you follow the light of the ancient star over Bethlehem, or you celebrate the festival of lights marking the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem, or – like the ancients – simply scan the silent heavens for signs of the earth’s turning, I hope you will keep a light in your window, and help keep the lamps lit in those corners of the world wherever your influence is felt.
I wish us all the promise of peace and the good will of the season.
Happy holidays and best wishes in the New Year and new decade coming in!
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