A poster suggesting that we “Love people, use things” was tacked to the kitchen wall of my childhood home, hung there by mother in a spurt of creativity.
“I like the sentiment and the colors work nicely with the decor, don’t you think?” she said, by way of explanation as she sipped her coffee.
I looked up from my bowl of Rice Krispies, squinted at the poster through one eye and nodded to her in tacit agreement before returning my attention to the far more important special offer on the back of the cereal box.
“Who is she kidding?” I thought to myself that morning, scoffing silently. “Color scheme, my eye! I know what she’s up to. She’s trying to teach us something,” I deduced, stealing another glance at the poster when she wasn’t looking. I was right, of course, although Mom never said another word about the poster or its message. She didn’t have to. It was just always there, right inside our line of vision, reminding us in Pop Art colors how to behave in and outside of the house.
That poster from my childhood is an example of what Sister Christine Mulcahy, the former headmistress of Notre Dame Prep, used to refer to as “collateral education.” Collateral education is all the stuff that floats on the periphery of our lives yet somehow manages to make its way into our consciousness. Its only prerequisite is an open mind and there are no exams to measure its impact. Though not as demanding as say, American History or Advanced Trigonometry, the lessons imparted by collateral education are just as worthy of our attention. It comes in a variety of forms and, not surprisingly, is ubiquitous at NDP. From the words of Micah painted larger than life on the dining room wall to a tiny prayer card tucked in the dirt of a potted plant on a teacher’s desk like a packet of seeds, these indirect teachings take root throughout the school. They hide in plain sight near doorways and staircases, in classrooms and hallways, on desktops and bulletin boards, as posters, paperweights, bookmarks and bumper stickers. They serve a variety of purposes from the merely informative – communications about scholarships or programs that could change the course of a young girl’s life – to the boldly challenging, daring the girls to look beyond their dreams; from the thought-provoking to the eye-opening to the truly inspirational. Every day an NDP girl is sure to encounter dozens of pithy aphorisms and famous quotations, posted by caring and creative teachers and staff. The messages, covering a broad range of topics and disciplines, engage the students – consciously or otherwise – in mind, body, and spirit. Current headmistress, Sr. Patricia McCarron, explained it this way:
“The images and words we see every day find a way to seep slowly into our minds and souls and impact the way we view the world around us. We just want to give our girls something worthy of contemplation.” They have done just that, defying each girl to become her best self and, in the process, to transform the world. Just another value-added benefit of NDP, giving the concept of ‘secondary education’…a whole new meaning.
Note: I poked around school one day last week when most of the kids were out on field trips. It gave me a chance to wander in and out of the classrooms and discover for myself nuggets of collateral education, some of which appear in this post. However, I’m sure I overlooked some real gems. What did I miss? Send me your favorite piece of collateral education from the classroom or your childhood. What wise saying has stuck with you through the years? What famous quote has inspired or enlightened you? Send them to Bluenote via the comment box, below and we’ll feature them in a follow-up post!
2 thoughts on “Collateral Education”
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves.” This piece of a longer quote by poet Rainer Rilke appears regularly in my classroom and in my communication with my seniors, who are stressing over all the questions right now.
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
William Butler Yeats