I love C.S. Lewis. I know that’s not an original, uncommon, or even cool thing to say. I don’t really care. I love his candor, his humor. I love that he loves a good beer, a big mug of tea, a fantastic book, being with friends and talking about God. I imagine that he even let a swear word drop here and there, when deemed appropriate. I happen to love all of those things myself. I love how he came to believe that there was a God. I love that he talks about it as if it were the most logical, rational decision he ever made. And I love, love the quote in the title. These past few weeks, I’ve had a terribly hard time reconciling the Mom in me with the free-spirit in me to the writer to the artist to the musician to the teacher to the reclusive to the twenty-eight year old adult in me and this quote gave me comfort. I was just believing all the wrong things about myself.
When I was a teacher, I strove to instill in my students the breadth of this quote. I wanted them to really believe the truth in it. That’s what few teachers (save the fabulous ones I had the privilege of working with), even now, really understand. Our job is not to teach students what a literary alliteration is. How to define foreshadowing. Tricks for multiple choice questions on standardized testing. Our job, ultimately, as teachers is to teach the truth- the truth about who our students are and what they are capable of. Anyone can point to a page in a book and tell a bunch of kids to read it, print out a quiz off of the internet, and have someone else grade it at Starbucks. Not just anyone can convince a kid that that she’s talented. That they’re worth fighting for. Not just anyone can inspire a kid to WANT to read Shakespeare because there’s beauty in it, and we were all created to appreciate beauty because it inspires us. And inspiration leads to great things. Not just anyone can make a kid yearn to learn algebraic equations because, ultimately, it will assist him in figuring out financial aid for the college of his choice. He’ll never have to shell out 300 bucks for some other guy who paid attention in class to do his taxes. He’ll never have to question whether or not he can afford to buy that house, go on that vacation, donate that much money to charity and still stay above water. Teaching kids isn’t really about your subject matter at all. It’s about the truth. You are what you believe you are.
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
It is amazing to me, though, how hard some of us strive to instill those things in our students, and our own children, and neglect to take it to heart ourselves. Because the truth is, kids won’t believe it unless they see you do it. If you as their teacher, Mother, friend, mentor and believe you are nothing, they will believe it, too. If you believe you have no power, no worth, no beauty, no talent, so will they. If you believe you are incapable of pursuing what you desire, they, also, will think that of themselves. If you do not believe you are loved by the God who created the universe, that no amount of mistakes and denouncements can ever keep Him from loving you, that He has been writing your story since before you were born because you are necessary and special to this world, then they won’t either. Our schools and homes are filled with children who second guess themselves. Who don’t pursue their passions because they were never encouraged. Who act out, fight and talk back because, you are who you believe they are, and they don’t believe they’re special or loved or capable at all.
“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”
The hallways are full of clever devils; as are our living rooms. Our neighborhoods. Our parking lots. How do we stop it?
“You are what you believe you are.”
Start with you.
Who do you believe you are?