By Stephen T. McClard - Complete Article List
All educators, at one time or another, will seek wisdom that is beyond their experience. Dealing with unruly students, not to mention the occasional administrator, can be a trying time for young and veteran alike. Choosing your source of wisdom can be as simple as prayer or as enlightening as digesting the latest educational materials from the scholarly gurus of our day. The latest and greatest in educational materials, however, pale in comparison to the masters of old. Aristotle, Socrates, Confucius and so many others have laid the foundations for our current view on life, the universe and everything. Despite the answer being 42 to some, the questions are endless when it comes to living life well.
Now that I have your attention firmly focused, consider one of the oldest self-help books known to man. You may be thinking that I am gearing you up to read a few Bible passages, but you would be wrong. Although the Bible is in a league all to itself, my aim in this article is to give you a glimpse of a different 4000-year-old self-help book that finds its origin in Egypt.
Isesi was the King in the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty (ca. 2414 BC). Isesi had a Vizier (advisor/minister) named Ptah Hotep (meaning: Pillar of Stability – Peace and Satisfaction). The Maximus of Ptahhotep was an ancient literary masterpiece and self-help guide for the people of Egypt. As you read this document, you quickly realize the immensity of wisdom that is contained in very short and concise nuggets of knowledge. This work covers topics from restraining anger to dealing with the passions of youth. From the standpoint of an educator, wisdom of this degree is gold plated and rock solid for dealing with students and coworkers alike.
Take these passages as a small sampling:
“Teach others to render homage to a great man. If you gather the crop for him among men, cause it to return fully to its owner, at whose hands is your subsistence. But the gift of affection is worth more than the provisions with which your back is covered. For that which the great man receives from you will enable your house to live, without speaking of the maintenance you enjoy, which you desire to preserve; it is thereby that he extends a beneficent hand, and that in your home good things are added to good things. Let your love pass into the heart of those who love you; cause those about you to be loving and obedient.”
How many pages could be filled in this article to illustrate just a tiny fraction, a mere glimmer off the edge, of this one single passage. The writer of this passage starts by instructing us to teach others respect through example. If you work at a job you enjoy, it is only right that you should do your best to return your salary with valuable work and effort. The affection you show to your place of employment will guarantee that your back is covered when you make mistakes. By passing your love for others forward, you teach others to do the same. That is amazing wisdom when you consider that your employers are your students!
"Be not arrogant because of that which you know; deal with the ignorant as with the learned; for the barriers of art are not closed, no artist being in possession of the perfection to which he should aspire. But good words are more difficult to find than the emerald, for it is by slaves that that is discovered among the rocks of pegmatite."
Arrogance is a hard quality to escape. If you are able to restrain your own arrogance, you find it ten fold in another. How do we effectually deal with the arrogance of our students according to wisdom and understanding? The answer according to Ptah Hotep is obvious: Treat all men as equals. Why? Because the barrier to what we are trying to convey as educators is not within the child but within the way the child is treated; within the very words we use. Rich and poor alike can attain the perfection that education offers if what is offered is truth—like an emerald hidden in a rough place.
"If you find a disputant while he is hot, and if he is superior to you in ability, lower the hands, bend the back, do not get into a passion with him. As he will not let you destroy his words, it is utterly wrong to interrupt him; that proclaims that you are incapable of keeping yourself calm, when you are contradicted. If then you have to do with a disputant while he is hot, imitate one who does not stir. You have the advantage over him if you keep silence when he is uttering evil words. "The better of the two is he who is impassive," say the bystanders, and you are right in the opinion of the great."
Students and coworkers will often have disputes. Dealing with a ‘hothead’ is never easy, especially if they wrap their arguments in clever language. The best way is the middle way in philosophy. According to Aristotle, the Golden Mean is the answer. Choosing the middle way is avoiding extremes—not anger and not cowardice. According to the passage above, you should listen more than you speak. The other person may be telling you something you need to understand. If you argue, “he will not let you destroy his words.” Don’t interrupt. The better of the two is the one that is impassive (unsusceptible to pain). According to Verbal Judo, by George Thompson, remove bias from your persona.
In my book, The Superior Educator, I relate this idea in the form of the calm and assertive demeanor. The calm and assertive persona removes the barrier in the middle. George Thompson says, “Think for the other person in the manner in which they should be thinking for themselves.” When you remove your own bias, condescension, anger and prejudice, you open the door for dialog to take place. Solving such problems can lead to humility when a student or coworker is treated with honor and respect.
As you consider what has been said in this article, realize that the work of becoming a great educator is locked within improving one person at a time. The work of inspiring the mind and producing the next great generation of thinkers is not that far removed from this ancient document of Egyptian culture. It’s locked within the potential of valuing the humanity of everyone we influence without forgetting the true source of Good in the world.
I’ll leave you with one more passage and leave it to you to figure out the rest.