Sitting in a restaurant, somewhere in Bucharest, I spot a little girl on the other side of the room. Judging from the long pigtails and Mickey Mouse boots, I presume that she must be about seven years old. Her parents must be nearby, but for 30 minutes at least she has been sitting alone, reading Roald Dahl’s Matilda with a magnificent smile across her face.
The girl disappears from sight but seeing a young person so focused and delighted by reading makes me want to thank the teachers who gifted her the skills to enter these story worlds. Little does she know it, but these tales of hope, love, and adventure will likely guide her into adulthood and beyond.
The girl returns without her book. This time she has a phone and, with her chin resting on the table and arms crossed, she starts scrolling to find something to watch. And it makes me consider how her parents and teachers are preparing her for all of the other opportunities and challenges that she will undoubtedly face through the course of her life.
I checked in again this week to Alain de Botton’s School of Life, a project dedicated to helping people lead more resilient and fulfilled lives. Today, the online shelves are filled with courses, books, and even card games on everything from Good Enough Parenting and How to Enjoy Life to How to Fail and How to Find Love.
And all of this made me ask, how are we helping the young people in our care to lead more resilient and fulfilled lives? Are we also teaching them how to respond to criticism, to reflect on the problem of individualism, and think about why dating apps might not be the road to true love?
The philosopher-theologian, Paul Tillich, once said that the role of academic theology was to find answers to the questions that the world is asking. He spoke, in this sense, of the “necessity of correlation”. In other words, there is simply no point in engaging in the pursuit of knowledge unless it was actually going to make a difference in the lives that people had to lead.
So what is going to make a difference in the lives of the children we teach?
The girl’s mother appears and leads her away. I guess it is time to go. And I am left wondering what School of Life she will need to guide her through the adventure that is hers to live.