This past Thanksgiving, my wife was quizzing me about what I was thankful for. My responses were typical. She said, “I’m thankful that we’re going to have another baby.” I was jacked! A few days went by, and we started talking about how we were going to tell people. Our daughter was two and half and closing in on three years of age. She was the first person we told. And at breakfast at our favorite diner, she told our families, “My momma has a baby in her belly.” My mother tried to tell her, “No you mean your auntie Susie, don’t you.” My wife’s sister was pregnant at the time. My daughter had a meltdown. She didn’t understand why people at the table weren’t validating her claim. That’s when we shared the good news. It was a few weeks earlier than we intended, but it all worked out well.
Very early on in the pregnancy, my daughter insisted she was going to have a baby sister. At the twelve week mark, a full two months prior to my wife and I finding out the gender of our child, my daughter bestowed upon her new sister the name of Boo Boo Trick-or-Treat. It’s a good thing we had several months to work in the concept of nickname versus birth name.
Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking of the definition of knowledge. How do we as human beings know? From an epistemological standpoint, I had several vivid flashbacks to Philosophy 101 with Professor Nadler. I remember sitting in the old Education building half way up Bascom Hill at UW-Madison. I was seventeen at the time. Professor Nadler set the stage nicely:
“What is knowledge?”
He went on to say,
“Knowledge is made up of three components. To have knowledge, one must have a true justified belief.”
The rest of the semester was used to break down the 130+ students with Plato, Aristotle, Sarte, Mills, Kant, and others. Professor Nadler kept coming back to his definition of knowledge through the entire course. By the end of Philosophy 101, I adopted Socrates statement as my decree of knowledge, “I know one thing, that I know nothing.” For the past thirteen years, I’ve thought about that quote often. How can I possibly have a belief that is both justified and true? After all, a belief by it’s very nature is something felt or thought.
My daughter possessed knowledge. At the age of two and into her three’s she knew. She knew she was having a sister. Many would say she was lucky. Many would say, “Well, she’s a little girl, of course she’s going to want a sister.” Maybe. But maybe not. There’s another piece to this puzzle I need to fill in. For both of our children, my wife and I found out what we’re having at our 20-week ultrasound. We don’t tell anyone what we’re having. It’s our little secret. As my wife’s pregnancy wore on, and Boo Boo Trick-or-Treat McCabe was approaching birth, some of our family members would torment our daughter. They would prod her about her “baby brother” and try to gauge the reaction of either my wife or I. After a while, Josie went from being adamant she was having a sister, to having meltdowns when confronted with the possibility of a brother, to downright having a sister defiance. She became resolved. “We’re having a baby girl, and her name is Boo Boo Trick-or-Treat.” She would tell people this at the checkout line in the grocery store, at a car dealership, or at the local swimming pool.
My wife’s due date was August 4. I’ve had the hospital bag packed since July 4. On Thursday, July 26, my daughter started saying, “Boo Boo is ready to come out.” Or, “Baby is coming out tonight, get ready!” Very nonchalantly, I took the hospital bag from the base of our bed and put it by the door. My thought at the time was, she obviously knows something. I went to bed two hours earlier that night than I had the previous ten. At 7am, I awoke to, “Hi, I’m calling because I’m having contractions.” My wife had called nurse direct. I jumped out of bed, called my mother-in-law to come over, did a few dishes, and we were off. We checked in to the hospital at 7:30am. At 10:28am Margaret Ruth McCabe was brought into the world. How did she know?
When she woke up in the morning, her mom and dad were gone, replaced by her Abuelita.
Abuelita: “Hi Josie.”
Abuelita: “Do you know where your mom and dad are?”
Josie: “They went to the hospital to have Boo Boo.”
No meltdown. No freakout to a wakeup without her momma. She knew.
I’m been reading several books very slowly. One book in which I’m rerereading is Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak. In this book, on pages 11-12, Palmer states:
“In those early days of my granddaughter’s life, I began observing the inclinations and proclivities that were planted in her at birth. I noticed, and I still notice, what she likes and dislikes, what she is drawn toward and repelled by, how she moves, what she does, what she says.
“I am gathering my observations in a letter. When my granddaughter reaches her late teens or early twenties, I will make sure that my letter finds its way to her, with a preface something like this: ‘Here is a sketch of who you were from your earliest days in this world. It is not a definitive picture — only you can draw that. But it was sketched by a person who loves you very much. Perhaps these notes will help you do sooner something your grandfather did only later: remember who you were when you first arrived and reclaim the gift of true self.’
“We arrive in this world with birthright gifts — then we spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse use of them. As young people, we are surrounded by expectations that may have little to do with who we really are, expectations held by people who are not trying to discern our selfhood but to fit us into slots. In families, schools, workplaces, and religious communities, we are trained away from true self toward images of acceptability; under social pressures like racism and sexism our original shape is deformed beyond recognition; and we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.
“We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then — if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss — we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.”
My oldest daughter is three. She dances. She tells stories. She loves to create all things art. She is imaginative. She knew she was having a sister. I hope she comes back to this post someday when she is much older and knows how special I think she is. I hope I always celebrate my wife and daughters’ original giftedness.
I have always been one to trust the learner and I’m learning to trust the process. Since late April, I’ve been interviewing for new jobs. This adventure took me all over the Midwest. From principaling to consulting to teaching. Elementary, charter, parochial, high school, so many different positions. So many great opportunities. After walking through the doors of a dozen different schools for interviews, I know something. I also have knowledge. I’m grateful for this experience because I possess a true justified belief.
Many great people are working very hard to move education forward.
Nearly every place I interviewed, I would go home and tell my wife, “They’re doing great stuff!” Personalized education, 1:1 laptops, leaders who empower their staff, authentic learning, expeditionary learning, place based learning- these are taking place. My eyes are opened wider than ever.
It was a summer filled with excitement and consternation. It’s not a good time to sell a house; especially, when a baby is about to be brought into it. As August wears on, and Back-to-School dominates the commercials, I’m struck with gratitude to have gotten to be in so many great schools, districts, and organizations. People are moving education forward.
So I will continue doing what I do. This summer, I found my mission. Here’s what I’m going to work on each and every day:
To broaden the definition of learning and teaching.
The trick is to expand something already rigidly codified. The challenge is working in the system and trying to change it without alienating my colleagues. Because as I’ve noted, my colleagues are doing great things!
I want to work in this profession until desks and rows are no longer an expectation and standardized testing is a thing of the past. I want to work in schools where students are able to create and explore their passions. A place where AP prerequisites don’t prevent students from taking computer art in the 8th grade. I want to be a part of a community where learning does not peak at ages 18, 22, or 26- but is a life long endeavor. This summer was exactly what I needed. The birth of my daughter was a miracle, and I got to go off of my island and see new learning environments.
====================Links & Citations In Order Of Appearance=============
Link to Professor Steven Nadler’s UW-Madison Website:
Wikipedia Entry for Socrates’ I know that I know nothing
Amazon listing for Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak
Palmer, Parker J. Let Your Life Speak. N.p.: Jossey-Bass, 1999. 11-12. Print.