Monday, May 05, 2008

Not thinking about what does not matter
   And inviting what does

Daffodil in front of tulips and hyacinthA garden is quite civilizing, in the sense that it invites attention to the sort of slow knowledge easily forgotten in the zany precincts downtown. An hour or so after work wandering from beauty to beauty, thinking about light and composition in the context of life cycles and compost is sure to leave all those tense puzzles that characterize modern bureaucratic schools seeming more what they are, little puzzles that matter less than they seem, whether they are solved or not.

When I was a very young teacher I argued in various places that as we more and more thought of teaching using metaphors of war—objectives, tactics, strategies—we would lose touch with the central wonder of it all, which we remember best when we think with metaphors drawn from gardening. We cultivate and we nurture, but most of what happens is beyond our understanding. I can garden daffodils but I could never design one. Most of what it does it does because that’s its nature.

New tulipsMy students today in seventh period were particularly beautiful, in that inattentive and careless way that is part of youth’s charm. We were discussing chapter fourteen of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, where the young scholar demonstrates to the old professor how he can make sense out of an ancient text using modern methods. 

It’s dangerous. The new method may, eventually, dissolve the old certainties. We risk getting lost in the chaos. And yet, the young scholar has learned enough to love order, and that’s what he’s looking for. A greater order.

I was more conscious than usual today that I can’t stop the kids from going where they will choose to go, and I don’t have much control over what they will learn either. I can, however, make it clear what I have come to love, which are mostly old truths about keeping promises, working hard to smooth the way, studying to get better at untangling knots.

The big news in education this week is that a study has found that Reading First doesn’t seem to work, and all those careful objectives and tactics may have led to a billion dollar boondoggle. As daffodils start to look a little ragged, young tulips are getting ready to open and peonies are making large round buds and lupines are starting to rise in a slow, implacable jostle for room in the sun. 

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 05/05 at 09:47 PM
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© 2008 Michael L. Umphrey
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