Tuesday, April 18, 2006

what it was all for

So Friday was the day we'd set in first period to stand together in the middle of the room and place our animals in the zoo. I honestly had no more plan than that, and I told the students so. Someone suggested we make a circle with our desks, which we did. Then someone said maybe we should start with climate. Two people had ice-requiring creatures, the polar bear and the penguin, so we began with that. Sarah, the student with the polar bear, told us that polar bears and lions are the two most discontented zoo animals and we know this because they're the animals that pace the most. We ended up talking about quality of life and the difference between surviving and thriving and whether or not animals' freedom should be sacrificed for the entertainment and education of humans and whether or not animals recognize that they're free or not free. In the end, we pretty much talked ourselves out of creating a zoo. Sarah said she doesn't like zoos anymore.
Here are the three of the many wonderful lines I heard during the discussion that I managed to write down: "Platypus's don't care." "In the UK every swan is owned by the queen." "All that evolution is for nothing."
I don't care anymore if we make a zoo or write a paper or get our bibliography pages right. All that research had its fruition in that one 50 minute discussion as we sat like educated people, sharing not only what we learned but, more importantly, what our minds came to understand. The students taught each other, and they taught me. I was stunned, and elated by it. They were too.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

some people eat Flamingoes

I wrote a long blog yesterday and it disappeared when I attempted to publish it. It tore me up to lose it. I forget how important this blog is to me. So I’m going to try to reconstruct what I wrote.
I began by saying it has been too long since my last writing, that I have been distracted, that I feel like I stepped into a school in motion from out of a world that is most definitely not in motion. It’s hard to reconcile the two worlds. When I make it back to the south shore I can hardly remember what it is like to be in a chaos-free place.
Anyway, what I wrote about yesterday was how the zoo research project is going. I think it’s a success. Learning about animals is pretty compelling. One of my students said the animals of Europe are boring. She said the only interesting one is an extinct one called the Irish Elk, that it went extinct because its antlers grew too large and its neck couldn’t support its head any longer. She printed out a picture of it and everything. Half the people in the room know now about the Irish Elk. Another student informed us that there are people who eat Flamingoes. Another student is researching the Cheetah and it gives us the chance to talk (informally) about what the fastest land animal on Earth would need in a zoo in order for it to thrive. My wish is that these brief interchanges will lead to a discussion of the differences between surviving and thriving, not just at a zoo, not just among animals, but among us. One time somebody who reads this blog pointed out the fact to me that these young people at Mandeville High School are the children who will be going to college and who will become lawyers and law makers and such, and that perhaps these are the children who may have the greater impact on our society. I’m thinking about that because maybe someone in this class will remember the talk of thriving and use it to help the children of my students at Douglass.
A dilemma led to a beautiful piece of luck, by the way. One of my students, a very strong and present young woman, was absent the first few days of the project, so missed the animal choosing. I gave her a book about the current thinking on zoos and made her the zookeeper and tomorrow, when the animal researchers gather in the middle of the room, armed with their information, she will be the expert and she will arrange the zoo according to what she learned in her reading. I envision her asking the animal experts questions so she can juxtapose. They’re all writing papers that contain information about the animals, a discussion of what each animal requires to survive, and a discussion of what each animal requires to thrive. Maybe when we get back from our break I’ll try to get them to make the leap and, in a formal discussion which will lead to an essay, apply their thinking to the human race.
The freshmen are still reading Great Expectations. I read the first 85 pages aloud and now I’m letting them read on their own. A student today told me she loves the book. I’m loving it too. I’m beginning to understand why it’s so revered. Pip is a plain old flawed and glorious human, just like me.