I have always believed that providing your child with a solid education is one of the greatest gifts that a parent can provide. Finding the right school – and in some cases, being able to afford it – is a challenge, and doing everything possible to ensure your child’s success once they are in school is almost a full-time job.
One of my favorite posters is for a business school in Amsterdam. Produced in 1917, it features Mercury (the god of wisdom), an owl (another icon of knowledge), and a very full plate of what I like to call Art Nouveau gothic designs. (I’m told it also features an abundance of Freemasonry symbols: the moon in the sun, seven stars, and other esoteric symbols …)
But finding the right school for your child and ensuring that they do their homework are not the only measures of educational success. This week I was reminded that the real key to education is, not surprisingly, great teachers. Educators are on the front-lines every day: they are charged with inspiring and uplifting our children, and teaching them while at the same time empowering them to learn. (Here is a great video of a teacher who embodies these skills).
These are just two posters from one of Montreal’s great French universities, the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM). Produced for their Centre du Design (under our great friend Marc Choko), they are a graphic representation of what happens when students (and faculty) are engaged in learning and sharing knowledge.
On Thursday, a well-dressed gentleman walked into the gallery. He explained that he was the director of a French public school, and that he wanted to buy some posters to put into the public spaces of the school. He had been to the gallery before and had visited the website. He had picked out posters that he felt would engage his students: one, from World War One, would, he thought, provide inspiration for discussions about patriotism and war; another, a colorful poster of jazz great Thelonius Monk, by the great Polish artist Swierzy, would be a perfect fit for the music room; our Havana Zoo poster – in its resplendent 70’s grandeur – would go in the arts and crafts room, and a few Olympic posters would festoon the gym.
Bill Gates recently gave a great lecture on “How Do You Make A Great Teacher?” (you can see parts of it here). In his presentation, he mentions that even if you are a college dropout – as is he – at some point in our educational experiences, we have all had great teachers. Teachers who, for some reason or another, inspire you and make you want to learn. I remember a few of them: a fabulous bear of a man who taught philosophy at Marianopolis (while smoking in class, dripping cigarette ash down the already stain encrusted lapel of his much-worn jacket); another who taught Irish literature at the same school and who between his most wonderful accent and his bewitching mustache, had all the girls enthralled (also part of learning, I would argue); and a strange gentleman who taught literature courses in his home while I was at Tufts. This last fellow didn’t like women much, but in spite of that – or maybe because of it – he made me want to do well in his class. He made me want to learn everything he could teach – and then he made me want to learn more on my own.
I’m not certain how a public school budget allows for expenditures that includes vintage posters, but I think that’s beside the point. Great teachers can work in barrios (like this one), at public or private schools, and at any grade level. The man that came into the gallery this week was one of those rare individual who puts every fibre of his soul and being into creating an environment where children can bloom and learn, and at the same time, be kids. He is a modest man, so I’ll refrain from using his name, but Sir, I salute you – you are what teachers should aspire to be.
I encourage teachers to bring their students to the gallery. I am happy to share with them some basic poster knowledge and I encourage them to ask questions, pick their favorite poster (and tell me why it’s their favorite), and not to be scared of art. But this week, I was so moved by Mr. School Director, that I decided to offer other educators an incentive: any educator who comes into the gallery to buy art for their school or institution will, from now on, be entitled to a 10% discount on any poster(s) they buy for that institution. I would be proud and honored to have our posters play a role in broadening young minds in this way.
Inspiration (a word I’ve overused in this post, but one that I think is fitting and appropriate), doesn’t just come from and through teachers. It can also come from children themselves. Like these kids, or this remarkable young woman.