A Window, not a Mirror

You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39b, ESVUK

“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” Sydney J. Harris

The elder leader of the group smiled with the presumed wisdom of a sage. “We can’t teach old books. The world has changed.”

The seminar for teachers had been filled with the assumption that contemporary education must include reflective books for middle/high school students. Old books no longer held relevance.

According to the new authority, teachers must give students books with characters like themselves in modern situations kids face today.

The world has changed, I thought. But how will students know how it’s changed if they only read books about kids like themselves? How will they ever be able to understand situations people faced in other times and what difference those books made?

To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with students considering how someone else might face a situation similar to one they’re experiencing.

Our minds, like our stomachs, need variety. But mirror-reflecting situations are good for occasional desserts, not as a steady diet.

Young people still need models who faced situation bigger than themselves.

Let’s consider some characters from a widely read book, banned in some places in the past, and having fallen out of favor with many educators in today’s world: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Lee’s magnum opus came at a time of disruption in America, the 1960s. It showed what life was like in the fictional community of Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s.

Atticus Finch looked through a window. If he’d looked into a mirror, he would have refused to defend Tom Robinson. He would not have wanted his children to suffer the abuse of schoolmates that led Scout into playground fistfights.

He would have shielded them from the issue of their day. He would have protected them from witnessing a quest for justice. He would have kept them from who they would become–better people for having gone through the trial of resisting racism around them.

Mayella Ewell looked through a mirror and saw the disdain the community would have for her for desiring the attention of a Black man. If she’d looked through a window, she might have seen Helen and the children who would have to find their way alone without the provision and love of Tom.

(Spoilers ahead.) Had Bob Ewell looked through a window, he could have avoided the revenge that cost him his life.

Scout, Jem, and Dill looked into a mirror and found a desire to make Boo Radley come out.

Perhaps Boo Radley had looked into a mirror long enough. When he looked through the window, he saw children in need of protection and saved them.

The book wasn’t set in contemporary times. It reflected the inward conflict that comes with outward injustice. Something beyond youthful angst and a quest for identity within a school setting.

Well educated people understand the past. They understand the conflicts of people who came before them. They understand life beyond the First World issues of our day.

They know the struggles of pioneering America from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.

They know the hunger of famine and how watching the society around you can push you into bad decisions from Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth.

They know the pain of living through the resolve not to sell yourself short in a society that doesn’t see your value from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. They know the victory that resolve brings.

They know the dangers of not paying attention to the past and to truth from George Orwell’s 1984.

They understand that, in order to love our neighbors, we must first look through a window to see them.

To limit our viewpoint to the mirror is to propel ourselves into our own destruction.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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4 Replies to “A Window, not a Mirror”

  1. Nancy, this is SO well said! It makes me want to go back and reread some of those good books again.
    When I taught middle school, I found the kids were more capable and interested in the “old” materials and ideas than the other teachers gave them credit for. An administrator asked me one day how in the world I got the kids so geeked about Shakespeare. Hey, it’s great literature, and the dilemmas faced by the characters in his plays may have seemed vastly different on the surface, but deep down the basic questions were the same.

    1. You can teach Shakespeare effectively to younger kids by scaffolding the vocabulary and cultural psyche of the times. You’re right. They can do more than even they realize. Thanks and God bless!

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