John Hales, Shooting Polaris & Nonconformity in Education

Was looking through my read copy of Shooting Polaris: A Personal Survey in the American West by John Hales (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 2005) & came across a couple of passages I had marked.

Near the end of this engaging book Hales, looking at a photograph from his travels in the Colorado Plateau, reflects on his experiences as an educator:

 “Some of us believed that any teenager worth his salt would take one look at the typical assortment of high school teachers, read a few pages of the typical textbook, spend a day following buzzer after buzzer through crowded halls from one spirit-sapping classroom to the next, and say no way. By walking away, these students showed us they were especially worth saving” (264-265).

By working with “at risk” students Hales reveals the independent thinking I wish every one of my students displayed. Why? Because by walking away from a conformity-inducing education (or at least by threatening to walk away from it) my students would challenge me to instruct without sapping their creativity, without sapping their originality & without sapping their identity. That is to say: these students would challenge me—no, dare me—to be a true educator.

And then, as if to underscore that point (not to mention exhibiting some shades of Derrick Jensen):

“We planned lessons concerned last of all with skills, first of all with helping our students understand who they were and where they stood in relation to the world. We believed that if we engaged their hearts, their minds would follow, which I still believe to be the only educational philosophy that makes sense” (265).


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