This past weekend I've immersed myself in two David vs Goliath stories. The first is Elizabeth Warren's book A Fighting Chance. The formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau -- a new government agency with some teeth to prevent the kinds of deceptive practices in lending products that caused so much heartache over the past few years was a very long shot. The banks spent $500 million dollars lobbying against it. The reason she succeeded was because it wasn't about her.
Elizabeth Warren had an empathetic, visceral connection with the people who had been victimized and her dedication and commitment to them shone through despite the fact, or perhaps because of the fact that she was not a pro at politics. She just spoke from the deep well of her convictions and somehow the stars lined up and miracle of miracles she spearheaded a growing collective of believers so that it happened. The book also happens to be extremely well written. I'm a tough marker. I've read too many self-serving books by politicians. This is not one of them.
The second story was a revisiting of the 1989 movie, Dead Poets' Society. Robin Williams (so sorry for our loss!) portrayed a teacher who empowered students to think for themselves -- dangerous ground to tread on. His character taught at an elite boarding school with the tradition and arrogance to assume they were training the next generation of world beaters. His character embodied the driving motivation of great teachers -- they care!
Great teachers communicate their passion for their students as human beings and show them how to connect to the great thinking and caring of other people thus opening the world and a world of possibilities to them. When students make discoveries under such tutelage it is disruptive. They want to stop and explore and follow the path that they're suddenly and surprisingly on. Student empowerment throws sand into well-oiled routines and artificial deadlines and, yes, test prep. Some of the best independent and public schools have the experience and moxie to allow such learning to happen. But most schools, aided and abetted these days by so-called education reformers, are clipping the wings of great teachers before they're even airborne.
I connect to these D vs G stories because my life's mission is to show that powerful thinking and passion is not limited to great teachers and poets but exist in all disciplines. Galileo is one of my heroes because he sacrificed his physical freedom to pursue his intellectual freedom, which ultimately prevailed. Great ideas often have trouble gaining traction because they fly in the face of tradition, or vested interests, or inertia. And change is scary.
I believe that children, like all people, can be moved by ideas and the possibilities these ideas present. But all too often, in textbooks and schoolbooks that have been edited by committee great ideas are presented in ways that diminish their power. That's why I'm so passionate about children's nonfiction literature -- great writing by authors who have made tremendous financial sacrifice to write about the real world in ways that communicate their passion through the craft of writing. In many ways they echo Mr. Keating, Robin Williams' character. Great poetry makes you stop and think about the human condition. Great nonfiction literature makes you stop and think about history or science as it connects to a child's world.
If you're curious about what this kind of writing looks like. I suggest you read a sampling on our FREE Nonfiction Minute website. See how 400 words or less can speak volumes to children, and perhaps, to you.
Follow Vicki Cobb on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vickicobb