Lerone Martin: Is there a word or a phrase that captures your pedagogy? How or why?
Shafique Virani: I’m not sure if there’s a single word or phrase that captures my pedagogy, but the phrase “like captured fireflies” certainly comes close. This is the title of a rare, almost forgotten piece written by Nobel laureate John Steinbeck, partially in response to the question of his eleven-year-old son Thomas, who asked “How much longer do I have to go to school?” It was originally written for the November 1955 California Teachers Association Journal and only twelve copies were ever published. Consoling his son, Steinbeck said, “if you are very lucky, you may find a teacher and that is a wonderful thing.” He then went on to tell of a teacher who forever changed his life:
In addition to the other things, she brought discovery.
She aroused us to shouting, bookwaving discussions.
Our speculation ranged the world.
She breathed curiosity into us
so that we brought in facts or truths
shielded in our hands
like captured fireflies.
She left a passion in us for the pure knowledge world
and me she inflamed with a curiosity
which has never left me.
When she was removed,
a sadness came over us but the light did not go out.
She left her signature on us,
the literature of the teacher who writes on minds.
I have had many teachers who told me soon-forgotten facts
but only three who created in me
a new thing, a new attitude and a new hunger.
I suppose that to a large extent
I am the unsigned manuscript of that high school teacher.
What deathless power lies in the hands of such a person.