The Cœur of the Matter

Karen3Sometimes I have trouble getting out of my car after arriving in the Fort Campbell Education Center parking lot. I’m stuck not because I’m dreading work—I truly love my job—but because NPR’s Fresh Air is just too interesting to leave. Today, Dave Davies, sitting in for Terry Gross, interviewed Maggie Smith, legendary actress, Academy Award winner, and portrayer of the incomparable Dowager Countess Violet Grantham on Downton Abbey. What a treat, and a great way to start the day.maggie smith1

Well into the interview, Davies asked a question that elicited an interesting response:

“DAVIES: Were you an entertaining kid to your friends? Did you make them laugh?

SMITH: I don’t remember doing that particularly. I went to a school where they were – well, no, they did plays and things. I was never in those, really. But I had a very good English teacher who said to me that she thought I ought to do it. She – I don’t know, she saw something thank goodness because I think if it hadn’t been encouraged by somebody that serious, I’m not sure what would’ve happened to me.” (emphasis mine)

encourageheartEncourage is an interesting word, its etymological roots in the French word cœur for “heart.” To encourage is literally “to put the heart in,” while to discourage is “to take the heart out of.”  Surely an anatomy teacher should have known this. If our students are to experience the pleasure that comes from meeting an achievable challenge, we need to do a lot of encouraging.

Later in the interview, Davies invited Smith to comment on her Oscar-winning performance in 1969’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Smith portrayed a charismatic and controversial teacher at a conservative girls’ school in Scotland. Predictably, Brodie runs afoul of her headmistress. Their exchange includes this gem from Smith’s character:missjean

“To me, education is a leading out. The word education comes from the root ex meaning out and ducere, I lead. To me, education is simply a leading out of what is already there.”

Well said, Miss Jean. Perhaps the best way to encourage our students, to put the heart into them, is to lead them out of their self-doubt and poor habits into a better way of thinking and behaving, regardless of our discipline. To finish with another quote from Miss Jean’s defense of her methods:

“My credo is lift, enliven, stimulate.”

You can read a transcript—or, better yet, listen to Smith’s incomparable delivery—at


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