Sunday, March 23, 2008


U is for Unlimited

As far as I can tell, nothing is more prevalent in educational circles these days than the idea of “limitation”. I constantly read and hear about boundaries that supposedly prevent students from achieving particular goals. Whether the boundaries are called ADD, ADHD, word retrieval issues, problems at home, or some other name, they all make it appear as though an individual student is somehow limited as to what he or she can accomplish. They present a picture of a human being surrounded by an invisible fence, beyond which he simply cannot go. I emphatically reject this notion, because I have a very different belief about human beings. I believe that the potential of every person is wholly unlimited. To me, each of my students is a vast and inscrutable mystery, as limitless as the universe itself. For any person, even the most well-informed expert, to suggest that he or she understands a student well-enough to place boundaries around that student’s potential seems to me the height of foolish overconfidence. It seems as silly to me as pretending that we can predict how many stars in the sky will be born and die this year. To use another analogy: If an erudite professor of geology were standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon, would he be willing to predict how the grandeur of the canyon might change in the coming years? Would he be prepared to say the canyon could be grand in only one certain way – that its beauty could not go beyond specific limits? I don’t think so ... and neither do I think teachers should consider themselves expert enough to make predictions about the grand canyons called students. How can any of us possibly see into the vast inner life of a student and make prophecies about his or her potential? Do we believe that a student is any less mystifying or magnificent than the Grand Canyon? I know I don’t.

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