Sages and Lunatics: You May Be One

My previous three posts looked at ideas from John Spencer's book Sages and Lunatics. I could go deeper because it is full of great discussion points, but I'd rather you just read the book. This is the final post.

It is incredibly difficult to spot the difference between a sage and a lunatic because at first glance, they look the same. The difference is that a Sage has some defining qualities the Lunatic lacks.

  1. The Sage is retrospective. He or she recognizes that over the last few decades, the relational aspect of teaching has been lost. Sure, it went way too far one way in the 70's and has since swing back to the assessment side in recent years, but we've lost sight of that middle ground. Students are pupils, not humans. Teachers are masters, not people. The relationship is exacerbated every day in schools with nary a peep. The Sage recognizes that education is much more than compliance and control...there is relationship - a dynamic that is special (sacred?) between teacher and student that we need to recognize. The Sage pushes back to that ideal while the lunatic screams in the background.
  2. The Sage is unconventional. Confusion is a tool to be used strategically, not a pathogen to be wiped out through "educating." Riddles and nuance flow freely during class with the intent of pushing students to just before their breaking point. A Sage rides the line between challenge and hopelessness in the face of discovering new ideas. Lunatics may often do the same thing, but for their own entertainment or indifference about the means used to reach the same end. Look carefully, and you'll be able to see the difference between the two.
  3. The Sage is humble. Classroom wins are local and celebrated with the community. Yes, stories and successes are shared, but all through the lens of the student and their growth. The Sage is always looking to serve others - be it parents, students, administration, colleagues...their own growth comes from helping others grow. The Sage recognizes that when everyone has an opportunity to succeed, the organization is healthier overall. This includes passing on opportunities to help a colleague. Selflessness is indicative of the teacher who gets it.

The really difficult thing about all of this is that the Sage doesn't feel like one. They may feel like a normal teacher or even the lunatic. They don't claim to have all the answers, just ideas which worked out for them. Remember these things as you meet and work with educators - you may learn something from a Sage without even realizing it.

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