Cook: For the love of Kevin Huffman

photo David Cook

Replace Kevin Huffman?

I know just the person.

Run, don't walk, to your nearest school, grab the first kid you see and ask one question and one question only.

Who's the most loving teacher here?

"Oh, that's easy," the kid would say. "Follow me."

Bingo. You just found our state's next education commissioner.

Because if we're going to heal from the body blows wrought by Huffman's policies, we need leaders who understand a most stunning truth: Education, first and foremost, is about love.

Not knowledge.

Not testing.

But love.

And love is a condition of the heart, not the head.

Huffman's continuous mistake was to locate education exclusively within the head. From the neck up.

Testing, more testing, tying teacher livelihoods to test scores and evaluations - all of it head-based policies originating from the fallacy that says education is mainly about what you can know. What you can memorize. What you can be tested on.

What you can quantify.

Yes, our state's ACT scores are up. Other scores, too.

But don't you see? We could have reached that promised land in another way using another vehicle, without the trauma. Huffman's path there wasn't the only path.

We must let public education descend from the head into the heart, which is home to the precious qualities - joy, identity, curiosity, liberation - that can never be quantified.

Knowledge should be secondary to the real aim of education, which is always about formation and transformation. When that becomes the goal, then knowledge - like a lamb sure to follow - falls into its proper place at the right hand of Things Our Kids Need to Live Full Lives.

It's an act of trust: By honoring all of the real needs in our kids' lives - field trips, art classes, PE, encountering silence, doubt, ethical tension - we trust they will also become smarter along the way.

Huffman made central what should have been secondary.

Yes, love demands literacy, but it never turns that demand into an anxious noose or runaway train. (I hear stories of children throwing up with nerves on Test Day. Of teachers on anxiety medication. Of good teachers retiring from it all.)

A child should never equate education with fear.

A teacher should never teach motivated by anxiety.

"I wish they'd just stop the train," one teacher told me. "Just once."

Last year, Huffman allowed schools to dismiss TCAP scores after they got bogged down; we ought to do the same this year and the next - a sort of educational quarantine - and instead measure children on their sense of well-being, the number of mentors in their lives, how they define happiness, how well they play.

(I'd argue it would be better to stop TCAP for a year and instead teach our elementary school children how to meditate.)

I know, I know. Such love-talk makes some people nervous. But how will we measure things? How do you test all of this? How do you grade the heart?

Go ask teachers those questions. Ask the ones who have taught my own kids and yours through thick and thin, always keeping an eye on their brains but a closer watch on their hearts.

They're professionals. They know what to do.

It is time Nashville learned to honor that.

"Teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart - and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be," the educator Parker Palmer writes. "We became teachers for reasons of the heart, animated by a passion for some subject and for helping people to learn."

Run, don't walk, to your nearest public school.

Ask to see a teacher.

Then do everything you can to love him by defending him.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.