Friday, January 20, 2012

The Great Teacher (A Parable)

The school was a great, open field. The Great Teacher watched from the sunlit hill.

Three teachers stood before his class, next to a great stack of bricks -- special bricks, that were called "facts."

The first teacher picked up a fact-brick and held it out. One at time, the students approached and took the offering from his hands. When each student was supplied, the teacher commanded: "Now, keep returning to me and put your bricks in a stack. You will make the biggest pile possible, for I will hand you many, many bricks before the sun falls."

The Great Teacher frowned.

The second teacher walked to the students sitting before him, one student at a time, and handed each a fact-brick. "Now," he said, "Carry your bricks over there and follow these instructions." The students gathered around and looked at a large diagram surrounded with steps and directions. In a little while, the students had built a small structure -- a neatly-made cube, consisting of the fact-bricks. The teacher walked around the structure with a clip board while the students bit their nails and shifted on their feet, and he checked the structure, carefully. He took off a point for each misplaced brick. "Your work is imperfect," he said. "I must tell you this so that you will strive to be better. To be perfect. In the real world, everyone will expect you to place each brick perfectly and no one will help you."

The Great Teacher shook his head, gently.

"The Lonely Tower," Samuel Palmer
The third teacher pointed to a great pile of fact-bricks in the field. "We are going to walk over there, together," she said. "You will see a high pile of bricks. Our task is to find the best bricks -- the truest ones, with sharp edges and brilliant color, but, also, those bricks that simply appeal to us."

Together, the class and the teacher walked to the pile and they chose carefully, under the her sharp eye. Mostly, she watched them, but, sometimes, she would point and speak softly and with encouragement.

When the students had loaded several wheelbarrows with their carefully-chosen brick-facts, the teacher said, "Now, let us go." The teacher grabbed the handles of a wheelbarrow and started to walk. The students followed, helping each other with the burdens and picking up each other's spilled bricks.

When the teacher had found a level spot, she began a conversation with the students. The conversation lasted well into the evening; there was laughing; there were some stern corrections from the teacher; there were respecful good-byes.

The Great Teacher nodded, and waited atop the hill as the stars cycled above him and then gave way to dawn.

They returned the next morning and talked some more, the class and this teacher. (The other two classes began again, too, and proceeded in the same manner as the previous day, making stacks and cubes that became incrementally more perfect, but The Great Teacher did not notice them.) Before long, the third class began building. They laughed and they argued; they spoke loudly and they worked silently. They helped each other to lift and place the brick-facts. Some led, others followed. Some broke bricks into pieces or chipped them into the shapes needed to complete parts of the project. Still others adorned the outside of the structure, after it had been built.

The teacher directed them and she corrected them. She had them consider the placement of their bricks. She suggested things and she asked questions.

In a few hours, the building was complete. The students shook hands and congratulated each other as the teacher walked away, forgotten by her class in its celebration.

In the field, under the setting sun, The Great Teacher looked upon the pile of brick facts and, then, the perfect little stacks and then upon the third structure: a beautiful little castle, with elegant angles and gilded edges. Flags, of bright yellow and red and blue flapped from its parapets in the evening wind. The students sat in the, admiring it as the golden light played over the surface, filling imperfections with lush shadows and illuminating moments of brilliance.

The Great Teacher turned to watch the teacher of the castle-builders, who was walking alone into the distance.

The Great Teacher smiled upon her, though she didn't notice, as, in the solitude of her mind, she was reaching for a way to teach the building of a castle that would reach still higher and that would shine more brightly in the sunshine of the next day.

The Great Teacher looked upon her with love and, then, was gone from the hill.