At first blush the German words der Korkenzieher – “the corkscrew” – and der Erzieher – ” the educator” – would seem to have little in common other than their spellings. But break them down into their parts and there is an interesting connection: they both have to do with “bringing something up.” In the corkscrew case, that something is a cork and the “bringing up” is quite concrete. In the educator case, that something is a person or people and the “bringing up” refers to the more abstract notion of “raising” or “pulling” those people up to a higher level – be it intellectual, social, emotional, physical, behavioral, etc.
There are two things I like about this connection. First, when you think about educating as being like using a corkscrew, it implies that development is unlikely to be linear: there will be twists and turns and you will come to the same place repeatedly, but as you grow you navigate this place with a greater level of skill or ease. Thus the corkscrew model of development operates from within a growth mindset (click here for an engaging piece where Carol Dweck describes her model of mindset). There is no set endpoint and you have no limit to how far you can “pull yourself up” other than that of your own vision, your own commitment and the level of energy you bring to imagining that vision and enacting that commitment.
Contrast this with a fixed mindset. You have a gift, characteristic or skill. Or you don’t. With this mindset, your vision is limited and your energy and commitment drain away when you hit that first switchback. Because under a fixed mindset, if bringing that cork up to another level isn’t easy or you can’t make it happen perfectly the first time, then you can’t really have the gift. And if you are the educator or Erzieher with this mindset, you may believe the differences between your charges are evidence for hard-wired limits on their potential and as a result you may not even attempt to “bring them up.”
Second as you consider how an educator and a corkscrew are alike, imagine a sommelier wielding a corkscrew, ready to open a bottle of wine. The wine is presented to the customer with respect. Time is taken to look, smell and taste (and even to describe the “feel” in the mouth); to consider and then detail the wine’s stellar and signature qualities. The process of opening the wine is seen as important because the contents are seen to be important. What if we as educators wielded our tools to make the learning process one that respected all learners and found just the right way to “bring them up” to a new level? What if we took the time to discern the distinctive and special talents of all our colleagues, clients and significant others? If we were to focus not on what is lacking but rather on what there is for us to learn and on how we might learn it best? Uncorking such rare vintages would allow us to drink deeply of the diversity dividend.
The Diversity Dividend by Katherine W Hirsh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Portions of this piece appeared in Pull out all the stops, 25/11/2015 http://earthquakewords.com/2015/11/25/pull-out-all-the-stops/