In the story "A Tale of Two Cities", Miss Lucie Manette goes to France to care for her father, who has been in prison for decades. She finds him locked up in the garret of a friend; even though he is no longer in prison, he is not mentally able to cope with the reality of his freedom. Miss Manette is not able to speak to him of his freedom, because he is not prepared to understand the reality of what she says. Instead, she is forced to spark his emotions, doing her best to stir up the life that lost within him:
"If you hear in my voice--I don't know that it is so, but I hope it is--if you hear in my voice any resemblance to a voice that once was sweet music in your ears, weep for it, weep for it! If you touch, in touching my hair, anything that recalls a beloved head that lay on your breast when you were young and free, weep for it, weep for it! If, when I hint to you of a Home that is before us, where I will be true to you with all my duty and with all my faithful service, I bring back the remembrance of a Home long desolate, while your poor heart pined away, weep for it, weep for it!"
I feel like my students have been locked in their own prisons for most of their lives. My students have never been taught to explore math, to stretch their minds and think about the way the world works. Instead, they expect mathematical formulas to be spoonfed to them and hope they can remember the formulas long enough to pass tests.
Teaching my students is a process. I long to just tell them that they are free: free to explore the world and to discover math for themselves. But my students are not prepared for the freedom. When I fling the doors of their cells wide open, they stare at me like I'm crazy.
Instead, I have to stir their emotions one little step at a time. I have to ask probing questions that force them an inch outside of their cells. I have to give them glimpses of what could be, if they are will to step into the open.
It's a long journey, but I hope I'm making a little difference.