BY ALLEN PARKER
The 32nd Annual Mt. Vernon Conference kicked off Thursday morning with an enlightening oratory from keynote speaker Chris Irwin.
“It’s the politically correct thing to stand up and say that I’m honored to be here, but in my heart of hearts I sincerely feel privileged to be here today,” said Irwin.
Irwin began his keynote with a question many unfamiliar with his insights would understandably ask.
“What does a horse trainer have to offer about teaching,” said Irwin.
An hour later it was evident, a plethora of symbolism, thoughts and tools to help anyone in the field of education raise their conscious awareness.
Irwin described the pivotal breakthroughs on the road to advanced civilization as the discovery of fire, forging of tools and training the horse — which he added, helped build our civilizations.
“We live in a dog-eat-dog world where often hear that people are sheep,” Irwin noted. “If there is any definition for horse sense at all it has to be wisdom that can be found in nature where the fundamental law is survival of the fittest in the relationship between predator and prey animals.”
On that note, six hundred thousand horses are sent to slaughter every year, 400,000 because of behavioral problems, Irwin commented.
“We want the horse to turn off its flight or fight instincts and turn itself over to us. We ask for its body, mind and spirit to evolve out of its prey psyche and be ready, willing and able to learn how to learn and work with us and for us. We ask more of horse than we do ourselves,” said Irwin. “All animals are transparent. Body language is a sign of how they feel. We have to get past words and into body language because psychologists are telling us that despite our words we also are communicating with each other with body language’
A common problem nationwide whether it be in schools or on the street is bullying. In Irwin’s translation, “A bully is a victim lashing out.”
With that in mind, Irwin contemplated, adjustments in approach must be made in both society and the classroom.
“I haven’t heard one practical suggestion for dealing with bullying,” said Irwin. “We must earn respect with our own behavior. There will be challenges, of course. They will challenge you. Just as kids challenge a substitute teacher who is new to the classroom.”
The hypocrisy of leadership is constant, according to Irwin. The do as I say, not as I do phrase. “There is a lot of lost hope out there,” Irwin stated. “It’s very difficult for kids. They hear about the doom and gloom about the economy and the environment, corruption issues and other hypocrisies. And they bring that into the classroom. And do so do their teachers”
Which all goes back to Irwin’s horse correlation. “I get with horses what you get with students,” He said. “In my industry, trainers who fail to connect with the mind of the horse means that the horses go to the slaughter. Yours drop out.”
Irwin’s ending related entering the classroom not with a “top dog” mentality as an educator but as a shepherd to sheep.
“Don’t put the cart before the horse. It’s not the subject you teach, it’s how you teach it,’ Irwin added. We must evolve out of polarities. It’s not male-female, left-right, predator-prey. Ask yourselves, ‘Who do I need to be so you can learn how to learn.”