Monday, July 12, 2010

This Little Light of Mine

Growing up in Northeast Ohio, one of my favorite summertime activities from my childhood was capturing fireflies (also known as lightning bugs). If you've never seen one, the appeal is that from about dusk until around 10:00 p.m. these bugs rise from the grass and light up for a few brief seconds at a time. Trailing them in their "dark" stages, the fireflies light up again, giving you a chance, after sprinting to the location of the last illumination, to capture them in your hands.

On more than one occasion, I would fruitlessly put my captive lightning bugs into a jar with holes drilled into the top (thanks to my Mom for the jars and thanks to my Dad for drilling the holes-- and thanks to both for humoring me). I was even thoughtful enough to put in a twig or two with some grass, thinking that making them feel more at home would help them to survive the night. But without fail, my new pets would not come out of their night in prison alive. Maybe the holes were too few. Maybe grass was not part of a healthy diet for lightning bugs. Maybe lightning bugs need more space to sleep-fly. Regardless, trying to keep their glow to myself was futile.

Luckily for the lightning bug species, it did not take me long to learn this lesson:

Lightning bugs do not belong in jars.

Lightning bugs were not created for my own enjoyment, but to light up the summer nights in the Midwestern United States (and various other locations throughout the world). Trying to contain them and keep them hidden went directly against the purpose for which they were created-- to shine for the whole world to see.

Lightning bugs everywhere, please accept my apologies, but know that your comrades did not fall in vain.

There's a greater lesson in all of this.

How often do we do the same thing to ourselves? How often do we bottle up the gifts and talents God has given us instead of sharing them with the world? Or, what about the times that we do this to others? How often do we try to categorize others upon meeting them and assume that we know everything there is to know about them?

How often do we put ourselves, or others, in jars?

In education, it is imperative that we not merely fill our students' jars with knowledge so that they can glow for a test or project, only to die out when it comes to having this knowledge endure. We must give them the tools and skills needed to light up the world around them. We must allow them the freedom to test their abilities in various situations and locations so that they can acquire the courage to learn new ways to light up.

As educators, if all we ever do is improve test scores we've only done about 1/4 of our jobs. We must teach our students how to use their new knowledge meaningfully. We must demonstrate to our students how this new knowledge relates to larger themes and ideas. We must inspire them to use this new knowledge to benefit others and the world around us.

Put simply, we must teach them how to shine.

This is how the Master Teacher taught, telling His disciples, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father" (Mt. 5: 14 - 16).

Just like lightning bugs, we do not belong in jars.

It goes against that purpose for which we were created: to shine before others, that they may see our good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father.

Everyone has a light. You, me, lightning bugs, our students-- everyone.

It's about time we let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.