A Gift of Liberty

Th eoprevious blog  was about a gift - the creation of the national parks through the vision, passion and perseverance of a few who thought long term.  This column is also about a gift but of a very different kind;  it was given to me inadvertently and to a young man deliberately. 


Thirty years ago,  in Philadelphia and with time to spare, I joined a group touring the Independence National Historic Park which, I believe, is the only national park within a city.  It is famous for the Liberty Bell but what happened that morning involved a different type of liberty. 


A large group had assembled in a hall dominated by a painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and after the guide and ranger, Lisa Randolph (the fact that I remember her name is itself telling) had finished her explanation of the events depicted in the painting, a young African American boy, perhaps eight years old, raised his hand and asked how old Benjamin Franklin was when he signed the declaration.  


The majority of teachers would have provided the answer immediately, but not Lisa.  Instead she told the young man the year in which Franklin was born, explained that he could find the date of the signing at the bottom of the painting,  and then said, “When you have worked out the answer, raise your hand and you can tell me how old he was.”


The tour continued until we were standing in front of the ropes that section off the original Supreme Court when a hand when up.   Without saying a word, Lisa stepped forward, picked up the young man, took him behind the ropes (probably highly illegal,) sat him on one of the historic benches and invited him to tell the answer to the whole group.  He did, he got it right and the group applauded loudly.  


That young man will probably remember that event and the positive feelings associated with it for the rest of his life. 


Notice that Lisa did not check to confirm that the answer was correct before he gave it.  She trusted him, and had he got it wrong, undoubtedly she would have helped him work through to the correct response.


Lisa was a mentor for me and after the tour had ended I was able to convey to her the significance of her actions. I have not seen her since but the memory is as fresh as if it happened yesterday.  The gift she gave the 8 year old boy was the privilege to think for himself, the freedom to come to his own decision based on the data, and the joy of immediate feedback and recognition. 


Being a mentor for a nu-bee presents similar challenges.  How much does one demonstrate oneself and how much does one stand back and observe?   How often does one speak and how often does one wait for the lessons to be learned, the connections to be made?  How does one persuade others to read and attend those vital meetings, rather than sharing what one has read, what the guest speaker at the latest meeting revealed?  There are no definitive rules, and ironically I am one who probably is too quick to interfere, too quick to pull out my hive tool and demonstrate. 


Best  of course is a mutual, trusting to-and-fro  


This is mindful  of a conversation with a nephew who spent a semester at Trinity College in Dublin.   When asked to describe the  critical difference between the school in Ireland and the schools he attended in the United States, he thought for a minute before responding, “At Trinity we were expected to teach ourselves.” 


There are many gifts that we have to share with those who are new to this ancient craft, including our knowledge and our passion.  In Parker Palmer’s wonderful definition of education, we too “can create the space in which the community of truth might occur.”



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Latest comments

27.11 | 16:01

Moustache, wax? Of course. Now if all of the drones had mustaches ...

27.11 | 12:43

One of our club members says he got into beekeeping in order to make his own mustache wax. There's the explanation for the bearded/mustached ABF attendees!

13.08 | 05:43

Good morning Mr. Barnes, I'm so pleased to see the best of history teachers is still going strong! Looking at your website brings back some great memories

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