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The Path of the Teacher is the Path of the Open Heart

This article first appeared in the January 2009 issue of the Homeschool NYC Newsletter

My friend Pam said these words to me one day. We were having a conversation, just sharing bits of our lives. Suddenly these words echoed within me as having a rare truth. Pam works in the healing arts, and it occurred to me that our two vocations, teaching and healing, require an open heart in order to succeed. It is easy for a patient to be misdiagnosed by a doctor who remains judgmental and uncaring, and it is just as easy for a child's education and spirit to be damaged by a judgmental and uncaring teacher. Teaching with an open heart, seeking always to connect with the student — to the point of deeply caring about the child's spirit — can produce amazing results.

One beautiful account of an educator with an open heart is Teacher, by Sylvia Ashton-Warner, who taught young Maori children in New Zealand. These children, raised in ancient Maori traditions, were forced to enter the British school system at age five, with disastrous results. Attempts at teaching these children how to read using traditional British texts failed. Yet when Ms. Ashton-Warner created simple books using the children's own words, ideas and experiences, they read and wrote with remarkable success.

Ashton-Warner's outdoor teaching experiences are also inspiring, recounted in her chapter The Golden Section. This title refers to the golden mean and fractals, mathematics and science in nature, and to nature itself. We forget that mathematics is one of the sciences, and integral to them all rather than separate. We forget, too, that all sciences, including math, have their roots in nature. It makes perfect sense to teach our children math and science outdoors. Ms. Ashton-Warner had her young charges count the fronds of a fern or the petals of a flower. She understood that science and math are inseparable from the natural world, an environment where all children are curious. Ashton-Warner then advises us to "...put every subject into the creative vent...." Children love to draw ferns and flowers, dance to a bird's movements, sing and play music found in natural rhythms and sounds.

This YouTube video will help you to recognize fractals in nature.

Teacher is an inspirational journey for the reader. We not only discover the truth of child-led learning through the eyes of a true educational pioneer, we also fall in love with Sylvia Ashton-Warner's deep commitment to these children. It is indeed her love and passion, her open heart, which became this teacher's true path.