Wednesday, June 08, 2005

perpetual motion

10 days after school ended.
I've been forgetting to write down my dreams and I've had some good ones lately. But now I've forgotten them. I do remember one was that two students had committed suicide and I asked another student (a girl whose entire face was covered with stubble) who they were and she hesitated to tell me.
When I began this school year I thought the world I came from teaching in was the polar opposite of the world I came to. I looked at all the violence in these children's lives and thought there's nothing like this across the lake, that these kids knew way more about death than the kids over there. It was naive of me. They don't. I and the kids over there know as much about death and knew as many who had died as these kids over here do. The deaths were just different. In that world, young people die because of drugs and suicide. In this world, young people die because of guns. I have been guilty of pitying and romanticizing the lives of the children in this world and being angry with the children in that world, as though the children in this world have less choice than the children in that world. I was wrong. I can't get a handle on my thoughts yet except that the truth at the bottom of all of it is that the kids who die like this, over there and over here, do not love their lives. And they don't know that they can.
I wonder how many children would be saved if they could take a trip to Paris? Once they'd been to Paris and seen that the world has THAT in it, seen that everything is not simple and black and white as Mandeville or 9th ward New Orleans, and then seen that in the off-season one can fly round trip from New Orleans to Paris for $420. Once they could see that they have some control of their lives...$420 transportation, $21 a night in a hostel, maybe $200 to eat on, if they could grasp that. But they don't know there's such a thing as Paris. So to speak.
I think education is the answer. Real, serious education, showing our children that there's a world out there and in themselves, showing them that they have minds and power, letting them exercise their minds and their power, showing them that the limitations that stifle them are not made of steel, that their minds are of a substance that can break through anything. Anything.
Several years ago a boy I'd known all his life died of a drug overdose. When he was little he loved the woods and the swamp and he was excited about his life and the world. I always thought he was a brilliant person because of the things he was able to see, even so young, and understand. One day when he was about 10 he knocked on my door, excited to tears, with a stick in his hand that had been stripped by a beaver. The ends were pointed. You could see their teeth marks. It was the first time I'd ever held a stick that a beaver had carved. He gave it to me. I still have it. Michael loved the stick and the beaver and the idea that a beaver could have whatever it takes to DO that, and he wanted to understand. He wanted to understand everything. Around that time he got it into his head that he wanted to build a perpetual motion machine, and he believed he could do it. That's often all he talked about. However, at the same time he was having trouble in school. He wanted to build a perpetual motion machine. He didn't want to do homework. He didn't want to learn how to divide. He didn't want to write paragraphs for the sake of writing a paragraph. He knew exactly who he was and what he wanted to do. It hurt my heart for him back then because the world did not take him seriously. What should have happened is that some teacher should have said okay, that will be the context of your education. We will study the subject of perpetual motion and you will build a perpetual motion machine. And then of course he'd ASK to learn math and science and how to read and everything else school wants him to learn. But he'd have a reason for it. He'd learn everything so he could create perpetual motion. But school didn't do that. Instead he got suspended and in trouble all the time. He got labeled a bad boy. He started hanging out with the bad boys. And when he was 14, one of the bad boys gave him a handful of pills he'd stolen from his grandfather and Michael swallowed them all down and died.
He's a person who loved his life and then quit loving his life. And he loved the world but it didn't love him back. I think school has to get real.
If we could all just ask ourselves if the path we're on has heart, and if it does, follow it...if we could all just ask ourselves if we're being true to ourselves, and if we are, stay true...if we could believe in bliss...
This is a sad subject. But this is also why I'm a teacher.


Blogger Nancy McKeand said...

Making school responsive to the needs of all children and young people seems like an impossible task. There is a wonderful old Harry Chapin song about that. I forget the name of the song but it is probably something like "Flowers are Red". We stifle children's creativity, label them misfits of one kind or another and then wonder why they give up.

I think one of the answers is to have smaller schools and smaller classes. But are we able/willing to invest in that kind of school? In the long run it would be cost effective, but in the short-term, I think it would be too expensive to ever have a chance of happening.

As Harry said, "But there still must be a way to have our children say, 'There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in the flowers, and I see every one.'"

10:42 AM  
Blogger Clay said...

"And then of course he'd ASK to learn math and science and how to read and everything else school wants him to learn. But he'd have a reason for "

You nailed it.

I suspect that once a child realizes "oh, so a BOOK can help me get to (insert passion here)" they'll apply that to the NEXT thing they love.

You teach them TWO THINGS at once:

1. You CAN get a little closer to the thing you love.
2. BOOKS can help you get there.

I suspect that a lot of adults feel that "oh, *I* didn't get to pursue my dream, so how (or why) should you".

I can remember, back when I was maybe 9 or so, meeting a friend of my father's who had designed, patented (and produced, I think) a new diving helmet. Was split vertically so it was easier to get on and off (or so I remember). I have very few memories of my childhood before 12, but I remember that. And I remember thinking "wow, that would be so cool to MAKE something". In fact I've created 20 such "somethings"

I've ended up doing that, but not because I BELIEVED I COULD, but because I was too stupid to ask anyone if I could :-). The first program just seemed obvious to do. Then I thought "I'll write 2 more". No real plan, vision or dream.

I *suspect* that if I'd actually had the audacity of suggesting that I *could* (especially at age 10) I would have gotten a lot of doubting words from "those that know better".

Hmmm... what about reading biographies of people who've succeeded despite humble & challenging beginnings?

What about having them THEN write thier own biography, as written from from thier imagined, distant future?

6:38 PM  
Blogger Clay said...

Oh, and BTW, I bet that you had a student truly interested in doing something, you could find some volunteer professional at least anwswer questions.

People don't realize how willing (and flattered) a professional would be to have a student say "I want to XXXX, can you answer some questions". People who love thier jobs love to talk about them. People who hate thier jobs love to complain about them. People usually like to talk about what they do.

How about having your students :

1. Pick a goal (the more audacious the better).
2. Research to find someone who they could ask questions of.
3. Write that person a letter asking questions. Include a SASE (Self addr. Stamped envelope) for a reply -- make it easy for the poor busy professional).

Count me in for questions about :
Math (even questions from math student Melanie ;-)
Computer science
Electrical engineering
(Hey, I'm multitalented ;-)

BTW, this is the same advice I gave my sister Tara. Curious as to the results of that for her. Wish I'd done that when I was younger, but I'm happy with the way things turned out. A more diret route might have taken me to a less happy place.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Valerie said...

My son, Dustin, was like Michael. He, too, died of a drug overdose. Society failed him, I failed him, the school system failed him. He was so excited about life when he was small. So bright. So different. Once, when he was about eight, he got into trouble for writing "Learning makes you stupid" on a spelling test. I knew what he meant. I was always defending him against the confines of our system. I made him take his lumps and suffer the consequences, but it was no use trying to make anyone see the value of those who think differently. Your story made me sad Melanie. My story makes me sad.

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