Wisdom: From Whom and For What?
My colleague, Rob Shumer, asked me to contribute a chapter to a book titled Where is Wisdom In Service Learning?
The book will contain a series of stories of key individuals who have seen service-learning develop over more than three or four decades of their lives and have worked to engage students, families, communities, and educational institutions in the process of service and civic engagement.
I was intrigued on several levels but mostly about what is wisdom, who is considered wise and wisdom for what? Fortunately Rob sent a one-page overview defining wisdom as follows:
Wisdom is defined in many ways. It is referred to as accumulated knowledge or erudition or enlightenment. It also is described as “the trait of utilizing knowledge and experience with common sense and insight; the ability to apply knowledge or experience or understanding or common sense and insight. It appears from these definitions that key concepts of the term include applying knowledge or using knowledge and experience. Thus, wisdom goes beyond knowing something; it includes the notion of using knowledge and experience in ways that make common or reasonable sense.
I really like the concluding sentence that wisdom goes beyond knowing something…using knowledge and experience in ways that make common or reasonable sense.
I wonder if we too easily look to individuals who have many years of experience versus someone less experienced, individuals capable of blending knowledge and experience versus someone struggling to make those connections and individuals using vast experience and knowledge to make common sense versus individuals making common sense from limited experiences and knowledge.
So my question is do we look to veteran practitioners and leaders for wisdom or do we consider and advocate for wisdom from novices just beginning to have experiences and gaining knowledge?
Of course I am talking about how we engage youth and students and consider their wisdom as we develop best school and community-based strategies. Not for a minute do I dismiss the wisdom of veteran educators or education and community leaders but to me to make common or reasonable sense motivating and educating youth and students we need to seek and consider their wisdom.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve visited many schools to conduct interviews and focus groups of students including:
- Learning about the civic nature of school climate, pedagogy and partnerships for the Civic Mission of Schools national initiative examining students’ insights on ways to make civic more integrated in courses and the school’s character.
- Learning from middle schools students engaged in service-learning how to create more effective and relevant rubrics for social science classes.
- Learning from elementary school students in Queens, New York with the National School Climate Center that students do their best when they are engaged, listened to, respected and given time to finish their work.
- Learning from pre-school students in Denver, Colorado with Special Olympics Project UNIFY that social inclusion should be a normal part of school rather than an occasional strategy.
- Learning from high school students in Bellingham, Washington with the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network that engaging students, demonstrating the relevance of classes and working in small groups are strategies that will keep students in school.
My experience is that when we seek wisdom to enhance our education systems, curriculum, pedagogy, assessments and partnerships we need to include youth and students. While their experiences and knowledge may not directly compare to those more veteran, their daily engagement in the school system leads to common or reasonable sense critical for making significant education enhancements for student progress and success in school and life.
Youth and students are wise and their wisdom should be sought, cultivated and integrated into our schools and communities. If you doubt this, just ask a student for their insights and be prepared for their wisdom.