Thursday, September 13, 2007

old guy thinking

When I was young I knew everything.

Now I'm old and I know very very little. Replacing knowledge is opinion. I had opinions when I was young, as well as certainty, but they weren't the same opinions I have now.

To my children I apologize for the blunders their father made that they had to live through.

Here's what I have learned after 36 years of being a father, 33 years as a teacher...

It doesn't matter if you eat all your beets. All that matters is that you share food with people who love you, and who you love. Same with veggies in general. When the time is right you will develop a taste for them.

You don't have to eat with a fork when you're little. It's a handy tool and when you're ready you'll pick it up. All that matters is that you share food with people who love you, and who you love.

Doing well in school is nice because learning is fun. It is the brain's endless hobby. But if you are in a setting where learning isn't fun, it's perfectly reasonable for you to ask to be excused. That's not the same thing as refusing to rise to a challenge or to overcome a barrier, but learning is fun and if that is not your experience in school then something is wrong with school, not you.

Until high school, homework is irrelevant and steals time away from more important learning - unless it's some sort of project that you embrace and that your parents or friends embrace with you. Learning is a social activity primarily. From time to time it is a great solitary process, but not as a rule. When you're in high school the value of homework is that you take the time to reflect on neat stuff that class periods don't give you the time to reflect on. Homework is best done jointly with a friend. Doing endless pages of rote calculations (I teach math) does not make you a better person, student, or doctor. Doing repetetive boring work does not build charcter, it crushes it.

Question authority, just like the bumper stickers say. Not because authority is wrong but if it can't answer your questions properly then it's not authority but bullying.

Rules are agreements we make with one another. Most often life is easier if you share agreements with those around you. But there is no rule that says "Daddy knows everything" (sorry, you guys) or that if you're the guy or the dad or the woman or the mom that you have to be obeyed. Leadership does not mean telling people what to do, but making agreements with them about how we will all do it together.

Just because you start something does not mean you have to finish it. You don't. You can change your mind, or take a breather. That's fine.

That said, don't make promises you don't intend to keep.

"Nice" is better than "smart" any day. And if you have a clever wit don't ever use it to make yourself look good at the expense of others. Laughter can be vicious and cruel when used in this way and nobody likes that no matter how hard you make them laugh.

You are here first and foremost for yourself, not for other people. The trick is that you only become yourself or grow to like yourself by giving yourself to other people. It's a strange thing but true.

Love is not just a feeling. It's an active verb. Don't ever forget that.

You don't owe anybody anything that is burdensome unless carrying the burden makes your heart sing. Having one's own children makes the heart sing, in my experience. A life best lived is, in fact, lived for others. This is a conundrum, at least on the surface.

Here's a funny thing I have learned that I cannot explain or even articulate very well - you must learn to listen to your heart rather than your mind. Your heart knows truth, while your mind is easily confused.

These are true statements, in my heart's opinion.


redsaid said...

This explains a lot about your daughter Zoot and why she rocks as hard as she does.

I can't wait to meet you in person one day!

fiona-h said...

making me give those piano lessons another thought.

Rondavel said...

Thank you, thank you, and thank you. Beautiful, wise words.
I'm going to make my class copy it out 50 times.

Mark Hanington said...

Very clever!

Marina said...

Thank you, Mark. Your words have so much heart in them.

Anonymous said...

After reading through your blog, I'm pretty sure you are my grade 3 teacher from Hillcrest....but I could be wrong.

I just wanted to say that you were the best teacher I had, ever. I'm glad to see that you are still entertaining with your words, hope you still play the guitar and sing the martimer songs! I remember the math games, adventure stories of F, A and K, and of course the songs!

Thank you.

Jacalyn B.

Mark Hanington said...

Thanks, Jacalyn. That was me all right, and I remember you well. I still teach, but high school math these days. How are you? email me if you read this, at


Darren said...

I enjoyed this post. I've had time lately to reflect on my intellectually disappointing and unpleasant return to grad school (economics), and I enjoyed your insight: "learning is fun. If you don't find it fun then there is something wrong with the school, not you." Amen. (The observations about the character-destroying properties of rote calculation were also spot on, you'd be surprised how much of that there was too).