So many great mythological figures and seminal stories of history have danced around a core story of good versus evil. So many of our children and young adults have been raised with the images of Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings deeply engrained into their psyche! That archetypical story of poor, small, insignificant Frodo making his way, crawling for much of it towards Mount Doom with every large, powerful force of evil thrown mercilessly against him and his loyal companions is quite powerful and known and loved by so many. Similarly so many of the youth of today have ridden every tight curve with Harry Potter on his Nimbus 2000 before he graduated to his Firebolt, have felt the thump as a wand carried by an enemy threw him to the ground or a dementor chased endlessly after him.
Education - from the Latin, Educare - means to liberate. Sadly too much our education these days does so little to truly liberate. Endless league tables and teaching to the test and finding ways to ‘beat them’ whether the ‘them’ is your peers another school or another school system all deaden the educational experience and rob it of its dignity. But have you ever watched a young person as they are glued to the pages of the latest Harry Potter book or counted their Lord of the Rings pages in their hundreds and seen their energy, passion and enthusiasm? Tolkien and J. K. Rowling had that sacred ability to whip the young reader up into a fertile world of imagination, battle beyond us and issues that really matter and define us!
The examples I am engaging with here have much in common. Both pit the weak, powerless and good against the strong, powerful and evil! Both courageously walk and do battle against evil one step at a time. Both triumph - in the name of goodness - against all odds. Both give hope!
The role of the teacher is to give hope. The role of the teacher is to help each student find their Frodo or Sam within. The role of the teacher is to awaken the questioner within each child and to equip them with the tools to change this world for the betterment of all. The role of the teacher is to invite, encourage and mission forth the child as a person with ‘agency’ knowing that they too - like their heroes - are not powerless but can reach for the ultimate weapons of courage, conviction and right. The role of the teacher is to liberate the learner armed with curiosity, lateral thinking, creativity and passion. Many years ago Cardinal Martini of Milan visited Australia. On that visit he remarked in an interview that the biggest challenge facing the Church in our times was that of apathy. The ‘tell someone who cares’ energy wrapped around apathy leaves a world at the mercy of greed, power over and labels that divide.
It is interesting but all of our heroes - be they Harry, Ron, Hermione, Frodo, Gandalf or Sam never hate their enemy - the enemy they do battle with. In fact the true hero has an apparently paradoxical empathy for the brokenness in those who seek to destroy them and their world. Often our heroes are caught up in ‘grey’ conflicts when good versus evil is not black and white.
True education and the noble art of teaching call us to do battle in the grey. We equip our students with the art of map making (on the journey of life), we teach them to read the stars and navigate uncharted waters of meaning and confusion and we invite them on to the sacred ground of story; to know that each and every person they encounter has an unique and noble story - regardless of what powerful self interest groups may say.
Finally - all of our noble heroes strive to build community or re-form community or call it forth in the face of overwhelming odds. They each have that sacred task of helping those they encounter find a courage within that they did not know they had.
And how is all of this done? Like the teacher, our heroes build connection, build relationship, allow and accept weakness, search for a team response (knowing that the ultimate victory is not mine alone) and do it all one step at a time.
As we hear the bell and walk out the staff room door to do battle each day rarely do we think we are or feel like a Gandalf or Arwen - rarely do we have a good looking Legolas beside us - there is no Hollywood sound track whispering in our ears as we look out on a playground littered with paper that no one ever drops and no tamed dragon unicorn or giant eagle carries us beyond the reach of the robber of our one and only spare period that day! But in all that we do we sow the seeds of self-belief, empathy, compassion and agency in a world so desperate for heroes with ‘feet of clay’. What a noble calling is our teaching profession and we smart board, white board, chalk board warriors have every reason to be proud.
Thank you for who you are and all that you do for our Harrys our Frodos our Bilbos and Hemiones!
Edward Bulwer-Lytton was right when he said, “the pen is mightier than the sword!” Rowling and Tolkien have used the pen mightily to open the eyes of youth to know they carry a sword, enable the courage to use it and then gave birth to the dreamer who will not be cowed by the forces of evil!