Alison was observing the class this morning when Mark Warren arrived to take a small group of students outdoors for a lesson. Whenever Mark arrives there is a general flurry of activity: students grabbing jackets, rushing over to tell him about their latest finding in the creek or the woods near their house, or digging through their cubbies to find a botany booklet they created that Mark “just has to see”. Watching the scene, Alison remarked, “Still a rock star.” A moment later she continued, “Now, that’s the kind of hero worship we need.”
Maria Montessori noticed many years ago that elementary-aged children have a strong tendency towards hero worship. The tendency is so strong, in fact, that she insisted we take it into account in our teaching.
I overhear the kids’ conversations about baseball players, singers, authors, television personalities, characters in books, and coaches. Unfortunately, some of the celebrities who achieve hero status in our culture aren’t exactly the people we would choose for our children to emulate. As parents and teachers, we need to make an effort to put a different sort of hero in front of our kids.
If you have stopped by the classroom recently, you may have noticed a large poster of Albert Einstein propped up on a shelf. Becky found us a wonderful book called On a Beam of Light by Jennifer Berne. The story is whimsical and inspiring, but the best part is the author’s dedication. I read it aloud to the children at the end of the story. “To the next Einstein, who is probably a child now.” The very next day, a student walked in with the poster and put it on display. Hero worship.
In the stories we tell in the elementary class, there is a common refrain: “and we will never know who that first human being was who…” discovered that a certain plant had healing properties, picked up a burning branch after a lightning strike and harnessed fire, whittled a hole in a small bone and created a needle, banged a stick against a hollow gourd and created an instrument. These “unknown heroes” figure prominently in the early history of human beings.
These thoughts of heroes were on my mind as we set out for the playground. Three different groups of kids approached me to show me a caterpillar, a mushroom, and a beautiful flower. I couldn’t answer any of their questions! Instead, I directed them back to the hero of the day, Mark. “Isn’t it amazing that we have someone right here with us today who knows the answers to all of these interesting questions? Let me know what you discover.” Their little faces beamed.