This is a hypothetical letter to high school students that I am using for the opening of my book-in-progress, It’s Not About the Grades: Love for Learning Beyond Schooling. I am under no illusion that a high school student, a 14-18 year old, would likely be engaged in actually reading such a lengthy “text” such as this, nor would I write with this voice and style if I was honestly trying to engage a high school student. The “Dear John” is merely a tool created to engage the primary audience which is parents, mainly, or others with any casual or serious interest in the world of learning, school, or education. Partly, I imagine that parents may be concerned about a teacher who is attempting to influence (or otherwise inculcate) their child and so be interested in reading. They ought to pay attention if they aren’t already.
Dear High School Students,
There are landscapes for learning which extend far beyond school, one of which is an inner landscape that is waiting for you– waiting to be explored in order for you to know your truest, most essential self– your authentic self. You will acquire knowledge on the external landscapes that will certainly help you navigate the social world, the world outside yourself, that one clamouring for your attention all the time, but you will also gain wisdom from time spent learning on your inner landscape– the landscape that you might have an intuition exists but perhaps you haven’t been able to access properly or effectively. You need both landscapes for learning, where you can acquire both knowledge about the external world and deep, important wisdom within to be 100% authentically you– the truest you that the world needs– who you are in each and every moment and destined and meant to be as you continually change and grow.
After a long career in education—as a student on many levels of school, as a softball coach, high school English teacher, and teacher-educator, and single-mom of four college-educated young adults, I finally discovered, at midlife, that being “educated” in the traditional academic sense is not the key to a meaningful, quality, healthy life. I wished someone had taught me about the landscapes for learning sooner, especially the untapped inner landscape, which is why I am writing to you. I was limited in my understanding of learning and I discovered that my “education” was, indeed, incomplete, in the same way I believe formal education, especially high school, still is today. I’d like to offer you insight to possibly improve your experiences at school, to value the process of schooling in a new way, and challenge you to do something difficult that will afford you the great payoffs of fulfilment and meaning for your life: spend time alone, quietly, reflectively, through introspection getting to know yourself–your truest, most authentic self, as often as possible, every day. If you can manage to eat each day, then you also can feed yourself daily, regularly, repeatedly with your own attention— which, like good, nutritious food, is life-sustaining and necessary for vitality, wholeness, and wellness.
In order to be a successful social creature, you need to know who you are, as an individual—before you can consciously agree to identify with or define yourself as a member of a particular group or groups in the external world. If you do not gain the courage or the ability to spend time focused on your own inner landscape– the world of you, and value this lifelong quest as critical to becoming the fullest and truest you possible, then the social world: your parents, your friends, your society, the media and the market will shape you relentlessly without your consent, as you remain blissfully unaware, a product of your environment unbeknownst to yourself, childlike, and immature. Growing up, being an adult and “joining” society at large is not about going to college, getting a career, gaining prestige and money; rather, it’s knowing who you are at your core– it’s an understanding of how your body, mind, and spirit works; it’s about understanding human nature and your own specific human nature– all of it: good, bad, and continually changing, and taking 100% responsibility for this person that you ought to know (and love) better than you know anyone or anything else in the world. I learned most of this when I left the world of formal education to become a yoga teacher.
It’s Not About The Grades: Love for Learning Beyond Schooling is one product of my larger Landscapes for Learning project, which is my way of escaping the narrow confines of the high school classroom to begin a serious conversation with you and your parents and teachers about what I see missing from a truly complete education for teenagers— that is, teaching and learning about the wholeness and vitality of the individual human being, from the inside out. I hope to show you that a more conscious application of the principles of yoga can change your life, as they did my own.
Ironically, I quit my job to dedicate myself to yoga, writing, and more authentic forms of learning– that is, to continue to teach unencumbered by the inherent problems of a formal schooling environment. My personal story about what I learned about myself from the experience of teaching inside high school and getting outside the confines of the classroom is meant to make you and other people think, mainly your parents, about the definition of education and its purpose and challenge them to rethink the “why” of educating you. I hope to encourage reflection from educators about their identity as teacher and the role they play in schooling as well as more authentic forms of learning. It’s also meant to positively influence you to be the best possible individual you can be which begins with encouraging you to look up from your phone and inward. Rather than aiming at a narrow definition of achievement in school prescribed by tradition or following the contemporary cultural narratives about material success continuously and relentlessly vying for and dominating your attention, which appears to be in ever shorter supply and severely limited, you need to focus more attention on what it means to simply be— be who you are, in each moment, rather than overly-anxious or “stressed out” about “finding your passion” or what you are supposed to do based on what everyone else thinks you should when you grow up. You have no idea who your future self will be if you don’t get to know the you of now!
The story of my travels both in the classroom and beyond school is about the journey of self-actualization that took place both geographically, around the world and back during my brief absences from teaching high school, and within my own inner landscapes through yoga. As an escaped teacher freely roaming the landscapes for learning, my story contains observations about what I learned about my own humanity and our shared humanity. Ultimately storytelling is about empathy, a shared experience between the storyteller and the listener, so in this respect, I hope that your experience with my story will inspire you (and your parents and your school) to find more balance upon the landscapes for learning, that is, to do more yoga in order to become more vital, more alive, and more healthy and well throughout your life. I will help you do just that, by example and through explicit instruction, as I lay out my experiences in the pages ahead.
Your Yoga Teacher