And what do we teach our children?

While reading a post this morning on Punya Mishra’s blog, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Pablo Casals.  In fact, as an educator, it is one of my favorite quotes by a human… period.  I found it a while back during a research project on creativity in grad school.

Mishra’s post is on creativity, genius, and age and references a recent article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell.  The author speaks about our fascination with youthful genius.  He finishes by making the case that many artists do their best work late in their careers.  Perhaps the really interesting thoughts to be had are concerning the variables between such artists.  In the end, I certainly agree with Punya, though, that the article leaves hope for those of us who are still in the unending hunt for brilliance.

And so the reason I came to this blog today in the first place, the quote.  Swallow this one down today- especially if you are an educator, parent, or both.  Never lose sight of the big picture.  Print it.  Copy it to your “stickies” file.  Get a lengthy tattoo.  Share it.  Whatever you do, don’t hide these words:

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again.  And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the  capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.”

~Pablo Casals (Spanish Cellist. 1876-1973)

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Sean Nash

Biology teacher in the great state of Kansas. Back at it in the classroom after a 30-year career in Missouri. Former District Curriculum Administrator, Instructional Technology Coordinator, and Instructional Coach. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at


  1. Your statement about when artists do their best work triggers something I’ve been thinking about…
    Why do artists do their best work at the end of their careers? I think it’s because they spend so much time in evaluation of their own process that it leads them down a path of constant refinement and a search for something new, something their very own. Their technical abilities become honed and do not limit their creativity. The question is, how does that relate to teaching/learning?

  2. Sean,
    I think Gladwell was making that claim that genius is not necessarily a function of youth – he presented examples that illustrated some artists (prodigies) who created their best work when quite young – and others, like Robert Frost – who created amazing masterpieces in the autumn of their careers.
    It was an intriguing article to read because I do believe most of us equate “genius” with innate ability rather than refinement over time, and I never realized I was guilty of possessing this conception as well.

    Now..on to the quote…absolutely amazing. It speaks so well to the way I feel about our daughter – she truly is an absolute marvel. My questions is how you teach her what it means to be a marvel and the power that this realization truly holds?

  3. @ Jeanette – Thanks for doing the word cloud. However, I think they have much more value when utilized with a large body of text. A poem (or in this case a poetic quote) just seems to get jumbled in my opinion. I have always held to the notion that a poem (similar for a repeatable quote) is essentially distilled thought. Therefore, any jumbling of it tends to kill it.

    @ Jeremy – I think that is some awesome insight. I would tend to agree with you. How does it apply to education? Good question. Honestly- I think it applies pretty congruently with the art & science of teaching. The more TPACK-fu a teacher has certainly relates to creativity and thus effectiveness as an instructor. Thanks for making me think more about this…….

    @ Darren – 😉

    @ Erin – How to teach her? You are innately a good teacher. I think that speaks to the “art” of teaching. What do I think? I think it is really simpler to summarize than I first thought. I see the instructional aspects of parenting much like the roles of a “coach.” I think helping a child to believe in themself at that level takes: teaching, encouraging, inspiring, and empowering.

    I remember having those roles articulated for me by Robin Fogarty at a coaching for transfer workshop in Chicago. I think it it interesting how easily you could apply these skills as a classroom teacher as well. A self-assessment of what percentage of your time is spent in each of those roles might be a good indicator of a constructivist classroom. (or at least a less teacher-directed classroom)

    What overlap do those roles have in good parenting? I would say there is probably a great deal. Perhaps the only extra in parenting would be “loving.” However, you could likely argue that the best teachers even tap into that one a wee little bit in their roles as a teacher.

  4. I agree with the qoute. We sped so much time teaching children facts about htings. We never take the time to teach them about themselves. If people can;t find out who they are, they never will be able to contribute to the world. The ones who are arrogent, and degrading to this society, never truely new themselves.

  5. ha sorry my spelling is bad, i dont know why i couldnt spell whie typing that. I think a thing we must all keep in perspective while we teach our children is that evryone is a marvel. We must explain to them that everyone is lke themselves, and we should not judge or degrade others. This is not somthing we are taught. We are told this, in schools, church, and home, but we are never taught. If we as people stop degrading people, and appreciate the true “marvel” we all are, the world would be a better place.

  6. @nash
    I agree that teachers need to “tap” into parenting a little bit. It is such a fine line to walk, but as responsible people, it is neccessary. Teachers do not know what goes on in the homes of many students. The parents might not be teaching their children life skills. If teacher could establish such respect and treatment of each student as a “Marvel” the classroom would be a better learning enviorment. If everyone feels worthy, and valued, everyone learns more.

  7. Hey James… checked out your site. Keep up the good work! Thanks for mentioning Outliers. What’s funny is, that book has been riding around with me in my trunk for weeks now. I pre-ordered it on Amazon as if I would tear it up the day I got it.

    Well then… life got fantastic… had a new baby… and now it will have to wait a week or two. My guess = perfect holiday break reading.

    However, I’m not a big fan of the word “pseudointellectual.” I’m not sure of the use in this case. That most often carries a pretty negative connotation.

    Thanks for bringing up the book here… happy holidays!


    • Thanks for the reply! You know, someone actually pointed that out to me a couple of years ago… but via Twitter. Therefore, the discussion never made it here to the blog. I’m glad to finally have that information here. Thanks again.

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