Making Common Cause: Becoming Intimate with Our Game

Upon his return from Argentina, I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Vic Montagliani, Vice President of Soccer Canada.  In speaking about the difference in soccer between our two nations, Vic said something that, as always, was profound in its simplicity:  “The difference is that Argentinean kids are intimate with the game.”

As I drove home that evening, I thought about the idea of intimacy with one’s discipline and how exactly it fit in with education.  I thought of John Abbott calling upon us as educators to reconsider the claim made in 1959 by the Crowther Report “that until education is conceived as a whole process in which mind, body and soul are jointly guided towards maturity, a child’s personality will not necessarily be developed.”

I thought of Howard Gardner who, in his book, Five Minds for the Future, supports Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assertion that character is higher than intellect by arguing that “sheer cultivation of cognitive capacities, in the absence of human dimensions, seems a dubious undertaking.”

In Gardner I found the language that helped me see the connection between intimacy and education:  inextricably connected with our students for 40% of their waking hours, we need to be able to communicate with them, learn with them, and, where possible, make common cause.  It is through this process of making common cause that intimacy is attained:

  • The process leads us and our students to find meaning in something greater than ourselves, a meaning grounded in community, a meaning that has at its core two moral precepts: compassion and love;
  • It helps us appreciate that it matters far less that we know what time class starts than that we know why we gather and how we are changed because we do;
  • It lends itself to intimacy as we make our students consciously aware of the fact that it is not their abilities, their talents or their knowledge that matter: it is their being.

The article I am passing on to you this week, Clayton M. Christensen’s “How Will You Measure Your Life,” focuses on this theme of attaining intimacy.   

How Will You Measure Your Life – Clayton M. Christensen pdf

Christensen teaches aspiring MBAs at Harvard how to apply management and innovation theories to build stronger companies. But he also believes that these models can help people lead better lives: a belief based, once again, on making common cause.

On the last day of class, Christensen asks his students to turn their theoretical lenses on themselves, to find cogent answers to the following questions (questions that should be posed to and answered by every Grade 12 student completing Grad Transitions):

  • First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?
  • Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness?
  • Third, how can I live my life with integrity?  

The answer to the first question comes from Frederick Herzberg’s assertion that the most powerful motivator isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute, and be recognized. That’s why management like teaching, if practiced well, can be the noblest of occupations; no other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team.

The answer to the second question comes from the author’s belief in creating a strategy for one’s life and remembering the importance of humility.  When Christensen taught a class on humility at Harvard College, he asked all the students to describe the most humble person they knew. One characteristic of these humble people stood out: they had a high level of self-esteem. They knew who they were, and they felt good about who they were. As a class they decided that humility was defined not by self-deprecating behavior or attitudes but by the esteem with which you regard others.

The answer to the third question rests with choosing the right yardstick.  Christensen concludes that the metric by which we should assess our lives isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives we have touched.  His final words could proudly serve as any school’s mission statement: don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. 

In looking at the accomplishments of our students over these past two weeks, it is clear that in making common cause something wonderful and extraordinary is going on at John Oliver.  We are forging an intimacy that Abbott, Gardner, Christensen, you and I believe is of paramount importance for all involved:

Those learning structures that are moving towards a new empathic approach to education show a marked improvement in mindfulness, communication skills, and critical thinking as youngsters become more inwardly looking, emotionally attuned and cognitively adept at comprehending and responding intelligently and compassionately to others.  Civilisation increasingly depends upon mutual understanding; that is the challenge to all of us, especially as we educate children for the world that is hurtling towards us.

Enjoy your pro-d and have a nice weekend.