As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my goals this year is to read an autobiography each month. For February, I chose “Long Walk to Freedom” by Nelson Mandela. It was a daunting book that took me over a month to read, but it was worth it. If Mandela’s life was written as fiction, no one would believe it, because it’s so incredible. He was born into one of the most oppressive societies in the world as a minority with virtually no rights. He gained an education, became a lawyer and a political activist. He served 27 years in prison, but never gave up the fight. Upon his release at age 71 he continued to fight against apartheid and within five years helped achieve the impossible. He helped overturn the racist government and became president of a free South Africa, a country he had lived most of life as a political criminal or prisoner. He earned the Nobel Peace Prize and became the father of a free South Africa, long after he had earned the title of “Madiba” or father. Like the other biographies I am reading, I wanted to share some lessons from Mandela’s example that could apply to the world of education.
No task is too small: Throughout his life story, there are examples of Mandela doing “small” things to help others. Whether it was teaching someone to read in prison or helping a neighbor with legal assistance. He often remarked that the leaders he looked up to always found time to do the “little things”. As educators, the little things we do for students and parents can mean the world. A simple smile, a phone call home to check on their well being, and a helping hand can make positive ripples in the life of a child.
All people can change: Some of the most remarkable parts of Mandela’s story take place in prison. As I read the many chapters of prison life, I kept thinking that Mandela sounded like the characters of Red and Andy from The Shawshank Redemption rolled into one and that character rather than escaping, changed the world around him. He continually spoke of the importance of hope and that he never doubted he would get out and that his struggle would end in success. There were many instances in the several prisons he was confined to, where he would earn the respect of the prison wardens and would often educate the guards on South African history and about the goals of the African National Congress that he worked with. He noted that once fear and ignorance were removed, respect and trust were gained. As educators, we can NEVER give up on a child. No matter their past, their situation or even their attitude. When we can remove fear and replace it with knowledge, we will change the course of their lives.
It’s about the future and not the past: Mandela had a habit of planting gardens in prison and would often turn a dusty patch of land in a prison courtyard into a beautiful vegetable garden. He would even share his yield with the prison guards and their families as well as his fellow political prisoners. His gardens would often take years to cultivate before they bore fruit. It was a great example of how he lived his life. He wasn’t focused on quick fixes, but tended and cared for his garden to produce better fruit each year. When he rose to power and became president of South Africa, he used this same approach. He told his country that it was not about looking back at the past with an eye for revenge, but rather looking toward the future with an eye on hope. As educators, we may never see the fruits of our labors. We tend the garden of children in our schools and we nurture them and hope that one day, those efforts will bear fruit with happy and successful adults. It’s hard work and requires patience and one eye on the present and one eye on the future.
My goal was not to reduce the incredible life of Nelson Mandela into a few bullet points. However, I did want to share how educators can learn from people of all walks of life. Especially those who made the “Long Walk to Freedom“.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” – Nelson Mandela
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela
“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela
Saturday Shout Out – Dina Rocheleau
- Grades are due on Monday, March 23 at midnight
- Report Cards will be visible to families on Parent Connect on Wednesday, March 25
- The district will be sending out an update to staff (and then to families) very soon about how we are moving forward. As always, feel free to email or text me with any questions or clarifications.
- I will continue to send out a staff post each week and also my weekly parent update to keep consistency for our team and our community.
- Remember to take care of YOU and your family. Reach out to me or one another if you need assistance.