Teaching Confidential: What Anthony Bourdain Can Teach Us All About Education

Today shook me. In a very palpable way, news of Anthony Bourdain's apparent suicide hurt. As a longtime fan of his writing and his insights on food, politics, and humanity, I felt as if I lost a limb; a limb that allowed me to live a worldly life vicariously through his experiences. Ironically enough, it was Anthony Bourdain that gave me hope that a life filled with curiosity and adventure did not have an age limit. He was brilliant. He was a rock star. He was tragically hip. And he will be missed. 

As with any tragedy, I am drawn to the practice of viewing the untimely loss of Bourdain's life through the lens of an educator. What can his life, the way he lived it, and the knowledge he bestowed upon us all teach us about the way we think about teaching in an increasingly connected world. Allow me to offer five Bourdain quotes that hold incredible truths for educators.

1) “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.”

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Anthony Bourdain certainly left his mark on the world. With every country he visited, every table he ate around, with every toast of a drink, Anthony Bourdain was connecting with the world and changing it while simultaneously allowing himself to be vulnerable enough to let it change him. In the same way, teachers must take their role as change agents in the lives of kids (and, in turn, the world) very seriously. Although sometimes small, we impact the trajectory of the lives of our children with every interaction. We must acknowledge this and treat these moments as sacred. However, our ability to leave a mark is only half of the story. The other half lies in our ability to allow our students to change us. We mustn't live our lives as educators with walls up. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, approachable, and malleable. You may be surprised by the beautiful results.

2) “Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom...is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go."  

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The ability to acknowledge our own ignorance is a gift. Although it's not easy to admit that you don't know this or that, doing so is a necessary prerequisite to learning, to growing, to discovery.  As educators, we must be open to living this way. "There is no final resting place of the mind" means that our pursuit of getting better is NEVER over. Our ability to grow as an educator is directly proportionate to our ability to acknowledge and confront our blind spots. Like Bourdain, we must never allow ourselves to feel as if we've arrived. There's always another person to talk to, another meal to discover, and another lesson to learn.

3) “Few things are more beautiful to me than a bunch of thuggish, heavily tattooed line cooks moving around each other like ballerinas on a busy Saturday night. Seeing two guys who'd just as soon cut each other's throats in their off hours moving in unison with grace and ease can be as uplifting as any chemical stimulant or organized religion.”

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Anthony Bourdain has always been allured by the sanctuary that is the kitchen. Despite background, upbringing, context, and culture, in the kitchen chefs of all shapes and sizes must put their differences aside in the name of creating something beautiful. Our classrooms must mimic the sanctity of the kitchen. Our kids, tattoos and all, should enter our classrooms knowing that they are part of something bigger than themselves and that their participation in the learning ecosystem is vital and valuable. When we create this type of culture within our classrooms, all of a sudden, differences become our shared strengths and everyone is moving forward in the name of making something beautiful.

4) “Just because someone you work with is a miserable, treacherous, self-serving, capricious and corrupt asshole shouldn't prevent you from enjoying their company, working with them or finding them entertaining.” 

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Ultimately, we are the gatekeepers to our own happiness. Working near and around the miserable and intolerable people of the world is true regardless of your profession of choice. Education is not immune to the capricious. In fact, they're often drawn to it! As such, good teachers are the ones that remind themselves daily to rise above and work alongside these self-serving jerks in the name of serving kids as best they possibly can. When conversation in the teacher lounge turns to kid bashing, strive to be the one that reminds the group why they’re here. We do not have to allow other’s negativity to seep into our mood. Instead, we can become the infectious positive light to pierce the darkness.

 5) “I mean, when somebody’s offering you food, they’re telling you a story. They’re telling you what they like, who they are. Presumably, it’s a proud reflection of their culture, their history, often a very tough history. You turn your nose up at that important moment, the whole relationship changes, and it will never be the same.”

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If nothing else, Anthony Bourdain understood the grave responsibility he possessed by simply accepting a plate of food from someone. He treated the act with utmost reverence and seriousness. He did this because he understood that what was being offered was much more than the ingredients themselves. Instead, every meal contained a person’s culture and identity. To deny the meal was to deny the person of their personhood. In the same way, students often give us insights into their culture and identity through little, seemingly insignificant acts. If we aren’t paying close attention, we may miss out on the opportunity to connect with a child and affirm their personhood. Therefore, we must find value in the things our kids value. Instead of prescribing them what to care about, stay quiet and listen to learn what is important to them. By doing so, you tell your students that they matter and are loved just the way they are.

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