What It Means to Manage Souls


What It Means to Manage Souls

some thoughts on sculpting environment and education

Many new theories of education minimize the importance of the educator. Much of public policy regarding education is more interested in reelecting legislators than in supporting teachers and students. Most research in memory and learning suggests that setting up our classroom as they are in both space and time (I’m not being existential—I mean the concept of meeting daily for a few months then starting over with new curriculum) are not primed for longterm retention (and, frankly, based on how well I remember my high school French, I don’t doubt it).

Honesty requires asking hard questions then, questions like: does my chosen career have any value? am I helping my students progress faster than I am steering them in slowing directions? do the efforts I make a difference by showing up and talking at them each day? do my yes answers to those questions prove that I am allowing myself to be deceived by the biases of my grandparents’ expectations?

Honesty, in other words, requires that I either prove that being a teacher is a noble calling, or I stop being party to a broken system.

Or, more likely, honesty constrains me to notice when life has once again thrown me a false dichotomy.

I am willing to accept that the educational system still has room to improve, but imperfection does not imply failure. To turn suddenly to metaphor, this would suggest in parallel that students are worthless because they do not already know and practice what I am paid to teach them.

Progression is an eternal principle and that applies not just to the souls of students but to their teachers and the systems designed to serve them. And, as a teacher, I am given plenty of leverage in my own little sphere to create whatever “system” seems best likely to educate the future adults in my classroom.

A grasp of the basics like discipline and pedagogy are necessary, but ultimately, progression relies on the soul-to-soul connection that is the mainstay of every heartwarming teacher/student film ever made. Neither knowledge nor understanding comes from the ether, and as nice as it is to turn to books or the Internet, ultimately, knowledge is passed human-to-human. Even truly original knowledge, like when August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof saw his first amoeba in 1755, was built on knowledge he gained from others about lenses and paintbrushes.

Ants are a popular thing to point to when we want to talk about forms of intelligence different from our big human brains, but, actually, we’re rather antlike ourselves. Our hivemind may be less instinctual, but we too have a complex society built by working together and building on each other’s achievements. Teachers facilitate this growth. We teach our human larvae how to be adults, citizens, humans, contributors.

But, of course, we are not ants and we do have big human brains. So progression is ultimately a personal choice. As a teacher, I can do my best to point and suggest, to guide and to mould, but in the end, students are agents unto themselves and choose their own paths and their final destination is not destiny, but decision.

Which brings us back to paragraphs one and two and the alleged uselessness of the teacher. Well, I choose not to fret about that. I will do what I can do and accept the fact that in the end, I am merely an influence—not a dictator of future, but a tinkerer of the present. And, perhaps, an offerer of vision and an opener of paths previously unseen.

I may not be able to insist certain paths be taken, but I can show where those paths are and demonstrate the skills necessary to follow that path.

And ultimately, this is the teacher’s task: while I may “reign” the present, I do so only to suggest and hint of and offer a more glorious future, both for the individual student and the future society that student may create. And then I stand aside, let them move onwards, and turn my face to the new youth looking for paths yet hidden.

this was written as part
of my California teaching
credential requirements
and is a) strikingly
Mormon, b) typical of
my school work, c) likely
to annoy George Orwell,
and d) difficult to read
and then determine what is
an accurate reflection of
my thinking, what is
hyperbole, and what just
might be utter nonsense


  1. So--is the education system as good as it's going to get then?

  2. .

    I don't know. I'm just worried that now, when I electronically submit this essay, it will get flagged as plagiarism.

  3. That is a worry.

    Have you submitted it yet? If I may, I just wanted to point out a couple of things:

    "setting up our classroom as they are" -- um, classroomS, perhaps? That "are" is really throwing me off, and then I get totally lost in your parenthetical sidenotes, though they might be alright if it weren't for this confusion.

    "do the efforts I make a difference by showing up and talking at them each day?" This sentence is missing at least one word, maybe more.

    That's all in that vein. In an artery (since they pump from the heart), I just gotta say that this little piece stirred something in me, something I don't understand, can't name, can't describe. But the fact that it made me feel something--I dunno, seems meaningful.

  4. Interesting. When I tutored writing during college, I had to write something similar validating my position as a tutor and explaining how I could pass on knowledge and/or enthusiasm to a student.

    My ultimate conclusion was that such things cannot be passed hand to hand in the same way we'd pass the butter at a meal, but that most people are intensely curious. And if you can express passion about a certain type of knowledge, people will be curious about the root of the passion.

    Some will act on that curiosity and some will not. But my best teachers caught my attention by making me curious about them and their interaction with their subject before I became interested in the subject itself.

    Also--I'd have to agree with the ideas about people building upon people. It was a mantra of one of my favorite English professors that all literature is interacting with all other literature and that all ideas are interacting with all other ideas.

    I wish that idea had been expressed to me prior to college . . .

  5. .

    That and so many other ideas. I love your curiosity/passion,roottherof conceit. I think you're dead-on.