People Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel

Rohan and Navin

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

“Because I don’t goddamn listen.” Rohan, age 3 or 4.


Not my proudest moment. My son, who is now 5 years old, was sobbing, and I was being loud. I can’t remember what the problem was, but I remember yelling, “You know why I’m mad, right???” In between heaving sobs Rohan responded, “Because I don’t goddamn listen?” And where might he have heard that? I almost started crying myself.

What we do is what we teach (and what they do is what they learn). I know plenty of adults who couldn’t summarize Macbeth, let alone analyze it, and they have yet to be thrown into Board of Regents Jail. Most people I know (including teachers) definitely couldn’t pass a trigonometry or chemistry exam if it were given today, and, to my knowledge, none of them have had their kids taken away by CPS. Nobody was ever foreclosed on because they couldn’t remember whether Guam is a country or a territory. The content we teach is, at its best, survival tricks, and at its worst, logistically convenient “stuff” to do to fill time. None of it, not even the most fundamental ability to read, write, and balance a checkbook, is as important as how we feel inside…which, of course, translates into how we make others feel. If I “taught” my son everything he needed to know to become a man, but continued to lose my temper every time I got frustrated, then what am I really teaching him? The “content” means nothing if, for all the things I know and can pass on, I can’t control myself.

What does that mean in education? It means that students are more important than content and people are more important than systems. It means exactly what John Holt said: “How you treat a child is more important than what you teach a child.” It also means that John Taylor Gatto’s The Seven-Lesson School Teacher is the most terrifying thing you’ll ever read.

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