I am helping one of my nieces, Fabiana, with one of her papers. It is a difficult and dense topic. The requirements are meticulous. We are working sentence by sentence.
Somewhere in the middle, we take a break and we Skype my sister. Many years ago, I helped my twin edit her PhD thesis. It was a difficult time in my own life, and I remember spending many a Sunday in the UBC Education building holed up in an office, escaping my own demons while immersed in my sister’s paper. I was almost always alone and so I felt the freedom of running around barefoot in the halls in between the patches of editing.
It is funny the bits you remember. And the bits you don’t.
“Hey Fabiana, I remember when Zia Emi was editing my thesis, she even edited my acknowledgements!”
I had forgotten this part.
“I thought it was some of my best work, I was crying when I wrote it, and I was thinking, she is going to cry when she sees this too. Instead, she was tapping on the backspace button and deleting all the good parts!”
Oh yeah, it was all coming back to me now.
Her acknowledgements were a wordy sentimental mash of gratitude, fatigue and overwhelm – a blend of the best and the worst of my twin’s gifts. She has always been a superb cheerleader for the people around her – friends, family and especially her children. She is a master at celebration but she fought her griefs and disappointments with a fury. I was her opposite, embracing my grief and disappointment with a vengeance. I wrapped myself in a coating of it – it became my identity, while always praying somehow for that pair of ‘life is great’ glasses my sister always seemed to be wearing. Over the years we have been each other’s teachers, embracing both sides, so that now in our middle age, we have a little bit of each other’s gift.
I am worried that all of the doing and undoing of the editing with my niece might be soul depleting. At the end of one of my editing sessions with her I say, “All this editing, it’s not so much about getting a good mark on your paper. It is about getting clear with your thoughts. The practice of learning to write well is the practice of learning to think we’ll. It helps you get your points of view across to yourself and to others. It not only helps you write a good essay, it helps you become a better person. It is a great life practice.”
So that is what I think all of our learning should like. In an ideal world, we create conditions where learning is about sharing the communicable strengths and weaknesses of a collective, where every “educational” assignment can be understood as a practical and empowering life practice and where both the collective “good” and “evil” can be exposed, examined and shifted.
What are the ways you do this in your home, your classroom, your workspace? What are the ways you do this in public spaces? I await your suggestions so that I can learn something from you…