by: Alex Stubenbort

Every generation has a voice.  A troubadour that speaks for his/her time and place.  This orator acts as a kind of time capsule embodied.  Their work serves well to history buffs that dissect the generation for years to come.  However, what do we do with a voice that can’t be pinned down by decades?  A voice that is eternal?  A voice that is timeless?  To beg these questions is to ask, “What do we do with Bob Dylan?”

As a young boy, I first heard Bob Dylan on my father’s old turntable. As needle was put to vinyl, I heard a voice ring out between the crackles and pops that perplexed me.  Never before had I heard a voice so beautiful in its ugliness, so bold in its frailty, and so familiar in its other-worldliness.  I instantly fell in love.  As I’ve grown older, Bob Dylan’s catalog has seemed to grow with me.  For every chapter of my life, a different Dylan song seems to hold the wisdom to make sense of it all.  Therefore, I was delighted to hear last week that Dylan had received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Although he has yet to publicly accept or even acknowledge the honor (as Dylanesque a move as they come), I thought it only fitting to pay an homage to Dylan’s influence on my life and my work.  Therefore, I give you 5 Bob Dylan Quotes on education:

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1) “Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”

In Dylan’s 1964 classic “The Times They Are a-Changin'”, he penned a verse dedicated to a generation of adults scratching their heads over new “fads” like the Civil Rights Movement, protesting the Vietnam War, and smoking the weed. However, his words ring as true today as ever before. As teachers, we can, at times, find it very difficult to understand let alone embrace the obsessions of the youth we’re called to serve. In recent memory, flipping water bottles has made my personal list of things I just don’t understand. However, teachers are most effective when they tap into their students’ passions and use them as segues into real and lasting learning opportunities. So instead of criticizing what you can’t understand, step into your students’ world and bring your content along for the ride.

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2)“I accept chaos, I’m not sure whether it accepts me.”

There’s an unfortunate rumor spreading around education circles today that a student’s ability to learn is in direct correlation with the time that the student’s backside is planted firmly in a chair. Some perceive a student’s ability to sit still and be quiet to be of paramount importance. However, rarely do adults learn this way. We learn on our feet; we learn through discovery; we learn by doing. Likewise, our students crave the opportunity to genuinely learn in this type of environment. In order to create such an environment, a teacher must first relinquish a level of control and accept a level of chaos. That is not to say that this process is an easy one, but it is essential to promote genuine learning and lifelong curiosity.

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3) “Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”

Ultimately, trouble and hardships will befall teachers that take chances and push the envelope. However, each one of our failures is an opportunity to grow. The trick is being present enough in the midst of things going askew to comprehend what’s actually happening void of the delusions that embarrassment and rage often create. Our ability to “feel the rain” is an ability to comprehend the beauty in our misfortunes. This is admittedly difficult to do. Others will point out that you’re getting “wet”. They’ll invite you inside where things are more comfortable and familiar. You’ll be tempted to call yourself a fool for having even tried to take a step outside of the proverbial box. In those moments, I encourage you to take a deep breath and FEEL the rain and all the lessons it has in store for you.

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4) “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

In the age of over-legislative approaches to education, teachers have grown accustomed to waiting for “the man” to set our course when we know damn well ourselves what’s best for kids. This type of rebel spirit finds a voice in Dylan’s music. We often know what’s good for our students but we shy away from flying in the face of the powers that be. However, if we want to be treated like the professionals that we are, we must demand that we have a seat at the table when decisions are being made. Masters of pedagogy like the ones I have the pleasure of working alongside day-in and day-out have incredible ideas that could change education as we know it. So why wait for the weatherman?

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5) “You’re gonna have to serve somebody; well, it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody…”

In Dylan’s 1979 theological masterpiece “Gotta Serve Somebody” he made it very clear that each and every one of us have a choice. Who do we serve? The answer to the question will ultimately decide our fate. This question must be posed to every educator. Who do we serve? The answer’s not an easy one. Ultimately, we can say we have many masters: standards, parents, communities, personal comfort, district policy, and the list goes on. However, Dylan argues that we can only serve one above all else. My argument is that children must be the center of our servitude. Their learning, their safety, and their futures are what should inform our every decision as educators. With them firmly placed at the center of our servitude, seemingly complex problems become clear. 

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