All you need is love.

Given my deconstructive habits and our culture’s proclivity for irony in favor of sincerity, you might read the title of this post and assume a corrosive cynicism is coming. Quite the opposite. Inspired by Leo Buscaglia’s meditation on love, I was able to reflect on love’s role in my own pedagogical practice.

As I’ve admitted on the blog before, Graham Greene’s quote, “love is the wish to understand,” is my modus operandi. Or rather, it’s my enduring ambition. And so I dug up a piece of authentic sentiment from my teaching past, of trying to embody this love in words.

Below is an e-mail I sent to one of my classes at Saint James, shortly before I left for Putney. In re-reading it, I recognize still the same habit of withholding such displays and expressions, even in an environment where it is more than welcome, and no less than essential. May we all strive for love.

You’re so used to my criticism and sarcasm when I write comments (and e-mails) that I wanted to take a step away from that potentially destructive habit to offer you unmitigated praise.

It was a great first day of the TED talks, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.  What I don’t say enough to all of you is how much you actually astonish me.  Your growth as writers, thinkers…heck, as people has been amazing to witness this year.  But I can hardly claim any responsibility for it, so don’t view this as self-congratulatory.  I can only invite and encourage.  You have to see and do everything for yourself.  So the credit goes to you.

What this brief message is, then, is a feeble attempt to articulate inexpressible gratitude.  I’m thankful to all of you for your courage and dedication.  It’s easy to get lost in feelings of burdensome obligation and responsibility here, but you make my so-called responsibility a treasure I would never surrender.

Teachers are always told that they’ll affect students in ways that they’ll never know, suggesting that the reward for a teacher’s effort will often never really come.  But I would argue that students affect teachers in the exact same way.  And I want to tell you bluntly that you have profoundly changed me.  The joy of education, I think, is this chance for reciprocity.

Nerd that I am, I leave you with this sage encouragement: “may the force be with you.”  Any good Jedi knows what this means: may the passion, the life force of the world flow through you, and may it extend to all life around you; may each life embody the force that it naturally possesses, and may all life find harmony in this fulfillment.

Mr. Canelli


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