Guest Author: John Arthur, Teacher at Meadowlark Elementary

  • Meadowlark Elementary

...And because Icarus did not listen to his father’s warnings and flew too close to the sun, his waxen wings melted. Daedalus, horrified, could only watch as his son fell from the heavens and drowned in the sea.

I wept real tears the first time I heard that story in school. My head was pressed into my desk, Capri Sun crumpled on the floor. I was SOOOOO MAD at Icarus! All he had to do was exactly what his father said and everything would have been fine. Instead, Icarus disobeyed Daedalus, died, and broke his poor father's heart.

It wasn't until I read this myth to a class of my own that I realized what was really going on. As my students and I discussed the author's purpose, it occurred to me that thousands of years ago in ancient Greece, some guy in some town stood in front of some sort of crowd and told this tale for the very first time. Isn't that crazy? The fall of Icarus is one of Western Civilization's guiding metaphors and it all started with one guy, probably penniless and fallen on hard times, writing a bummer ending that, unbeknownst to him, would go on to help define intergenerational relations throughout the ages! Icarus didn't have to die – he fell from the sky because one sad man decided he should. That bitter, curmudgeonly storyteller was a total Daedalus, and his purpose was simple: to repress the Icarus in all of us. Fast-forward several millennia and you find out it worked, that even in the modern, hi-tech schoolhouse Icarus and those just like him still get a bad rap; case in point, kids today are still often referred to as “high-fliers” when they just can't seem to do as they're told. When are we going to realize that the problem has never been the kid flying toward the sun, but rather those shoddy wings they’ve been given that can't take the heat?

The time has come to celebrate each and every Icarus in our schools, adults and kids alike! We need to make them feel welcome in the schoolhouse, honor their audacity, and elevate their spectacular failures as the high watermarks of achievement. We also need to proudly recognize that by choosing a life in education we've proven there's at least a little Icarus in every one of us! And thank goodness for that, because our students have never needed us more than they do right now. Things are tough in our schools because things are tough everywhere; hate-spewing monsters have come out of the shadows, literal trolls attack our kids online and on TV, and icy cold figures frighten our children, threatening to tear their families apart. Our students are smart enough to know that everything that’s come before has brought us to now, and they're waiting to see what we come up with next. I say we get out of the way and unleash the kids who can't sit still, champion the children who can’t help but shout out loud, sing praises to the students jumping fully-stretched toward the top of the doorframe, point them toward a problem and watch as they weather it down with their daring until there’s nothing left to see.

I've heard it said that we become the stories we tell ourselves; if that is true, then perhaps all we need now is a new ending for an old story.

A strong swimmer since birth, Icarus easily made his way to the shore. Daedalus ran to his son and screamed, “Why didn't you follow my instructions?”

Icarus laughed. “If you didn't want me to fly, you shouldn't have given me wings!”

Looking back at the salty sea, Icarus immediately recognized the flaws in his father's design – the wings were functional, and yet solely intended for escape, not flight. Icarus, driven by the desire to SOAR once more above the clouds, built a new set of wings that could withstand the heat at the highest altitudes. Not only did Icarus go on to fly higher than Hermes himself, but his innovations filled the skies with mortals who thought as he did – that we are remarkable creatures meant to do remarkable things and one day destined to redefine that which we believe to be best in ourselves.

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