Just Like Pastrami Lee Shulman's belief has its roots in the Jewish delicatessen of his childhood. Now the longtime educator says life, like pastrami, is best when marbled with flavors and savored for its rich complexity.
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Just Like Pastrami

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Just Like Pastrami

Just Like Pastrami

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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in figuring out my own way to confess.

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe in the power of number.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in barbecue.

Unidentified Woman #2: Oh, I believe in friendliness.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in mankind.

Unidentified Man #4: This I Believe.

(Soundbite of music)


On Mondays, we bring you our series, This I Believe. For New Year's Day, we turn to Lee Shulman, he's president of the Carnegie Foundation for the advancement of teacher in Palo Alto, California.

Lee Shulman works to improve teaching at all levels from grade school to medical school. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: On a day when many people are making resolutions, Lee Shulman, educator and son of a delicatessen owner, proclaims a belief that some may have just chosen to swear off. He says one particular high cholesterol item on the never-again list just needs to be more broadly understood and appreciated.

Here's Lee Shulman with his essay for This I Believe.

Mr. LEE SHULMAN (President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching): I believe in pastrami, well marbled pastrami. Hot, thinly sliced, piled on fresh rye bread with dark mustard and crisp dill pickle. I believe that pastrami is a metaphor for a well-lived life, for a well-designed institution and even for healthy relationships. Pastrami is marbled rather than layered. Its parts, the lean and the fat, are mixed together rather than neatly separated. Too much of life is lived by adding layers that don't really connect with one another.

When I was about 12, my parents bought a small Jewish delicatessen on the northwest side of Chicago, and that's where I learned about pastrami. I worked at the counter and I learned the differences between well-marbled and merely layered meats. My dad would explain to me that some customers wanted them to slice away all of the fat on a brisket. And then they'd come back to next day to complain that the meat wasn't juicy. He'd sigh and explained that without marbling they'd never get what they wanted.

I've seen the wisdom of my dad's insight over time. When I started teaching college, my mentors warned me against having any interest in my students' lives outside the classroom. In my first month on the job, I taught a 500-student class. One day, a young woman came to my office to tell me she wouldn't be able to complete all the course requirements. It turned out her husband had been killed in a car accident the month before. She was a 19-year-old widow.

I then began to wonder about the other 499 students. Their stories may not have been as extreme, but I would have been a fool to think that their lives wouldn't have an impact on the classroom. Learning and living were marbled in my student's lives, not layered. To teach, advise and mentor them, I needed to be sensitive and aware of their tragedies and celebrations, their ambitions and their anxieties.

Separate layers are much easier to trim from the brisket. Separate layers are much easier to build, to schedule and to design. But I believe that marbling demands that we work with the messy world of people, relationships and obligations in their full rich complexity.

The diet mavens inform us that marbling can be dangerous for our health. But as an educator I'm willing, even obligated, to take that risk. I want to marble habits of mind, habits of practice and habits of the heart with my students, just like pastrami.

ALLISON: Lee Shulman with his essay for This I Believe.

Metaphors aside, Shulman says about actual pastrami that he still goes to considerable lengths to get the good stuff. We invite everyone to take part in our series. To find out more and see what thousand of others have written, visit our Web site, NPR.org.

For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

MONTAGNE: Next Monday on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, an essay from Memphis listener Melinda Shou(ph) on the belief that gets her through the holidays.

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