Thursday, March 14, 2019

Learning Never Stops

A bit of a change of pace...A real-life Lesson I learned today. Hope you enjoy and comment. :)

Never Stop Learning

Our local news station does a segment every week called, "Never Stop learning'. As an Educator, I understand that phrase perhaps better than some. When I was a kid of maybe five, I heard my (at the time) favorite teacher say, "When we stop learning, we stop growing. When we stop growing, we stop living. It doesn't matter if your heart beats and brain functions. You are dead the minute you stop learning."
I pondered that and remembered it. I still do. I believe it. I try to live by it.
As a young teacher, just fresh out of the house from being a full-time mom, my mentor teacher gave me charge of a boy with autism. He was 'different', and twenty odd years ago, the research into what made him different and not the dreadful 'r' word had barely begun. But he taught me more in that year than any experience in my life. He taught me to grow, to see people not as society demands, by as he/she really is. 

In the times I grew up, in the South, racial tensions were high, feminism was just budding, and everyone was coming off the glow of the wild sixties into the volatile seventies. No, I'm not THAT old. The seventies, to me, were my older sister fighting with my parents to wear miniskirts and go-go boots and stay out past ten o'clock while I played with dolls under the dining room table. It was the last, perhaps, gasp of the 'innocent' age, when kids left the house at dawn and mothers never worried, because they knew, with certainty, their child would race home seconds before the porch light flipped on.
I learned, in those growing up years, and the eighties that followed, all the 'academic' things kids learned and the values of my parents, staunch conservative Baptists. My father was known for being even-tempered and honest; in all my years with him, I saw him in a temper only twice. His best friend, from childhood, was an African American man.
We lived in Southern Small Town America. It doesn't come much smaller than a one stop light town only on the map because of the railroad which ran through it. Men were very much 'Sons of the Confederacy'. My family roots grew deep there, nine or ten generations back, depending on who you asked. 
I watched, at the age of eight, the KKK, known as 'The Boys', burn a cross in my Father's Best Friend's yard one night, and try to hang him in front of his wife and children. I saw my father step between them, push the guns away, and quietly say, "Get out of here. And may God send you back to hell for this." I learned Courage that night. I learned Honor. I learned how to Stand. And I learned how to use nonaggression against aggression.
I learned it again a few years later, as the Klan marched through our town. Amidst the hate and unbelievably vile shouts, an African American policeman stood guarding those very ones calling for his death simply for the color of his skin. He was the son of the man my Father saved. 
I decided to never let hate win. It's been hard, and that determination has been tested numerous times. Fate laughs at humans who make determinations. Ever notice that?

But I learned To Never Stop Learning.

I teach children with autism. Or rather, they teach me. I have students across the spectrum, from you would-never-guess to you-know-right-away. Each has touched something in me I didn't know was there. Each has taught me something, and more than I feel I teach them.

I don't have favorites. Really. But one, I'll call her 'Amy'. Amy is on the lower end of the Spectrum and rarely uses conversational language. She speaks, clear and often very LOUD, just not in the way others do to communicate. She uses 'cues' and songs, game and words that represent other things. English that's a foreign language, in the world where she lives and we don't. She's sixteen, as tall as me, almost as big, and adores Sesame Street. Amy will never live independently, a very hard fact her family had to accept. But Amy has a laugh that makes a room glow. That makes everyone around her smile. 

And she has a huge chunk of my heart.

Her mom told me, when I arrived for our private session, that Amy's PT (physical therapist) had told them yesterday, "She's as far as she's ever going to be. I can't help her. So I'm releasing her." In essence, the PT gave up on Amy making further progress.
(Let me add, I don't know this PT. I'm going on what Amy's Mom said. PT is different from learning. I understand that. But from the tears in Mom's eyes, she felt deeply betrayed people who should help her child aren't willing to accept painfully slow progress and prefer to release (or as Mom sees it, give up).
The PT claimed Amy had stopped learning.

Afterward, my heart heavy, Amy and I went on a walk around the town. I pointed out the different flowers blooming, the men working on a roof, the airplanes in the sky. Amy responded by not responding, by being in the place she dwells: in her world. 
But as I watched the gray clouds in the sky, beside me, she spread her arms, laughed joyously, and spun in circles. She laughed and laughed, uncaring if people stopped and stared. She loved the air, the scents, the feel of the breeze, the warmth after the cold winter. She was demonstrating, at least I believe, her joy in being alive. 
I envied her that freedom. That absolute confidence to simply LIVE and BE and to heck with what anyone thought. No boundaries or constraints. LIFE. JOY. 

I wish so much all of us could live that freely, that joyfully, that open.

On impulse, I started singing, 'Frere Jacques'. I've never sung this song with Amy before. She stopped, stared at me. I kept singing and she listened intently.
And after almost 4 years of working with her, when I stopped singing, Amy looked me in the eye (something few children with autism will do), smiled, and said my name. "Sing more. Please."

CONVERSATIONAL SKILLS! AND MY NAME!!! I almost cried. But I sang it again.
And Amy sang it with me.

She was growing. She was learning. Never Stop Being Alive and Never Stop Learning.

I grew today. I learned to stop caring so much what people think and LIVE. I learned to take time to see the flowers and watch the birds. I learned, most of all, sing a song when I feel like it and smile for the sake of smiling.
When we walked back to Amy's house, I told her Mom what happened. I added, "Amy won't ever give up on me. And I'll never give up on Amy. Neither of us will ever stop learning."

Never Stop Learning. So you can Live in the World you create.