Monday, July 23, 2012

Where is There?

I run quickly into the City Market in Steamboat Springs to grab a small container of whipping cream* (our night to make dinner and dessert) and my eyes wander to the "bargain bin" of books.  I can't help it, I had to stop to look (even though I had a starving soccer player waiting in the car).  Sure enough, within three minutes I have four books in my hand.  
     It's such a habit, this addiction to books.  What's my favorite cloth bag say?  Erasmus's quote, "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes!"*  It's true.  It's like dessert, this book-buying habit.
     One of the books I picked up is There by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick.  I was struck by the cover.  And the dedication "For Bernandine, with love?"  Stunning.  Then I read the first line, "When will I get There?"  That was it... into the shopping basket it went.  When I got to the car (I put the other three down by the way, I was in "catch and release" territory after all), my lovely wife says, "Only YOU can find a new book in a City Market!  No wonder it took you so long!"  And she smiles.  She knows she can't stop me... she's tried.   
     I smile back.  "It was ONLY five dollars," I quibble.  "Besides, I put three others back," I try to reason, "And look at it, look at it!"  
     And she did... all the way back to the condo she read it to Lauryn and me.
      As I read through this book later that evening, it really made me think.  Our own children ask, "When will we get there?"  We've all heard it from the backseat, starting at a tender age.  "Soon, soon..." we tend to answer in the gentlest of voices, "Soon."  We always seem to have the pat answer tucked in our back pocket.  
     And it's not much different in our classrooms is it?  
     Students ask:  When will I need this? or Why is this important?
     We say:  I'm getting you ready for _____,  you know it's coming! or Next year, you'll have to know _____, so I need to teach you how to _____! or I am responsible to make sure you can _____!
     As I was reading, I began thinking about notion of slowing down.  
      • How can we build stamina and endurance as learners if we don't take the opportunity to slow down?  
     • How can we create any sort of depth in learning if students are riddled with bits and pieces of gibberish that explode across their day?  
     The little girl in the book ponders and ponders about what the future holds--when really she might just focus on today.  She should be thinking about her childhood.  As should our students. 
      So, I plan to use There as a gentle reminder that children need time to ruminate and explore.  If we're expecting children to read more and more complicated, nay, more sophisticated text, it's important that we nudge them to ponder, to probe, to define purpose.  Depth comes when classroom environments foster the intellect.  Depth comes from taking time.  Depth comes from carefully mixing specific aspects of what's important with in the context of decision-making and choice.  We can't throw out our beliefs about learning just because the targets have changed.
     I  do a study of endurance and stamina with my students at the beginning of the year (see Conferring: The Keystone of Reader's Workshop) and I believe this year we're going to spend more time on the notion of "Pondering our Purpose" as well.  I think it's important.
     When will we get there?  I dunno.  I DO know that we'll work on it together and do the best we can.  And, I'll be using There to help us.  As the author reminds us, "We can go there tomorrow!"
*Desiderius Erasmus was a Dutch theologian and his real quote was related to his interest in all things Greek.  He said, "I have turned my entire attention to Greek. The first thing I shall do, as soon as the money arrives, is to buy some Greek authors; after that, I shall buy clothes."

*When people call whipping cream, whipped cream it makes me cringe a little.  It's not whipped cream until after you whip the whipping cream.

1 comment:

  1. Love this, Patrick. I do think we need to slow down to give our students time to think, reflect. And I love the quote about buying books - a friend just texted that quote to me two days ago saying she'd heard it and it made her think of me.