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Daily Archives: May 25, 2017

On Wiesel’s Night

Several years before I retired from teaching, a family approached me and asked me to tutor their child. Usually, I don’t tutor. Too often, it is about prepping for a test and is too rote for me.

After talking with the family and student, I agreed. The student was behind in some courses and wanted to be ready to transition from home schooling to attending high school full-time.

I helped her mostly in Math and Language Arts. I approach Language Arts through a cross subject method. I choose a novel and prepare a novel study. The students demonstrate comprehension, writing, grammatical, and other skills, instead of drill and kill method.

We discussed several possible choices for a novel study and decided on Elie Wiesel‘s Night, which is an autobiographical narrative of his time as a teenager in Nazi concentration camps with his family. I warned the student it was a tough read, but she insisted on the book. I asked her to read only assigned chapters and keep a journal.

The next week, she asked a question and confessed she read the whole book in one sitting. She asked if was OK to cry when doing a novel study. I said it was. We adapted and went through the book in a different way.

What I learned from that experience, is as hard as we try, as parents and teachers, there are things we cannot prepare children for in advance. This poem by Thomas E. Thornton, who was a teacher, echoed those sentiments. The poem is hard to read, but he wanted to impress upon students an appreciation for the horrors and violence of war.

I cannot teach this book.  Instead,

I drop copies on their desks,

like bombs on sleeping towns,

and let them read.  So do I, again.

The stench rises from the page

and chokes my throat.

The ghosts of burning babies

haunt my eyes.

And that bouncing baton,

that pointer of Death,

stabs me in the heart

as it sends his mother

to the blackening sky.

Nothing is destroyed

the laws of science say,

only changed.

The millions transformed into

precious smoke ride the wind

to fill our lungs and hearts

with their cries.

No, I cannot teach this book.

I simply want the words

to burn their comfortable souls

and leave them scarred for life.

 

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A Vision

I am preparing to go to Miami of Ohio to attend a writing retreat. It is a curriculum theory called currere, which is the root word for curriculum and is an infinitive verb meaning to run the course of one’s life.

Currere overlaps with the methodology, hermeneutic phenomenology I used in my writing my dissertation. The two are reflective, explore one’s lived-experiences, and interpret them as data . After a person reflects on a lived-experience, they imagine how it might inform their teaching. They create a vision of the past and future in a way to create a vision for the present.

William Pinar compared this process to photographs that gain clarity as they develop. I had not used the method, but referenced Dr. Pinar’s work and he was on my dissertation committee.

Part of the process of preparing has been to use the method of currere. As I wrote, read, and reflected this Wendell Berry poem came into my view. Even though I am not teaching, I wanted to create a vision of what the wisdom might be like. As a young teacher, I can envision having used the process as a way to survive, to be still, enrich my teaching and student learning, and creating a memory native to my teaching. As Wendell Berry says, it was a paradisal dream. Hard work never is. It is its own reward.

If we will have the wisdom to survive,

to stand like slow-growing trees

on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,

if we make our seasons welcome here,

asking not too much of earth or heaven,

then a long time after we are dead

the lives our lives prepare will live

here, their houses strongly placed

upon the valley sides, fields and gardens

rich in the windows. The river will run

clear, as we will never know it,

and over it, birdsong like a canopy.

On the levels of the hills will be

green meadows, stock bells in noon shade.

On the steeps where greed and ignorance

            cut down

the old forest, an old forest will stand,

its rich leaf-fall drifting its roots.

The veins of forgotten springs will have

            opened..

Families will be singing in their fields.

In the voices they will hear a music

risen out of the ground. They will take

nothing from the ground they will not

            return,

whatever the grief at parting. Memory,

native to this valley, will spread over it

like a grove, and memory will grow

into a legend, legend into song, song

into sacrament. The abundance of this

            place,

the songs of its people and its birds,

will be health and wisdom and indwelling

light. This is no paradisal dream.

Its hardship is its possibilities.

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