Bless the Children with Boredom

Bless the Children with Boredom

A child walking down the street nearly bumped into me as he did something with his smartphone. In the laundromat, a brother and sister sat side-by-side; each staring at a different video. On the subway train, a boy of not more than six played a video game. None of these children was bored.

Much of my childhood was filled with long stretches of boredom. I grew up in a primitive age when television stations still signed off late at night and did not start back up again for hours. Sometimes, with only a handful of channels to watch, there as nothing that could keep my attention. I could go and knock on the neighbor boy’s front door; but he might not be there . . . or his parents might not let him come out and play. I could not send surreptitious text messages. No one could send me links to videos on the Internet. I could go and read a book. Truth be known, though – books were most often neglected companions. And my parents, as patient as they were with their son who tended to hover around adults more than most children, sometimes told me to go outside and play. Continue reading

Curiosity

Curiosity

I credit my parents with putting an important frame of curiosity around things for me. They taught me that learning is fun. This was long before I met people who told me that it should be a serious undertaking. Right from the beginning, my mom & dad let me know that whole worlds resided in books – and that I could go there with as little effort as turning a page and reading. We went to museums and historic sites on vacations and weekends. We pulled along the side of the road to read historical markers. We took the time to imagine together the things we were learning on our own or with each other. Life itself, I was taught by them, is an adventure.

I was not immune to the pain of alternative portrayals of learning that I encountered later, however. Learning was to correct a deficit of not knowing. It was a deadly serious effort to avoid poverty, inadequacy, and ignorance. Learning was something that needed to be done to complete you as a productive member of society. Learning was process and knowing was product.  Continue reading

Discernment

Discernment

I experience life as a conversation between the Divine and myself. I am not merely acted upon. Nor do I live in isolation. Life is made up of a sharing of hopes, dreams, and ideas. It is a mutual act of creation.

This means that I need to regularly pause to listen, to reflect, to dream, and to wonder. I need to discern the course ahead.

One of the most important things in this process of living is to remember that I need to pause – to stop for a while. It is too easy to forget this. It is too easy to think that life is one-sided; made up of actions for which I am solely responsible.  Continue reading

Tree of Knowledge–Spirit of Wisdom

Tree of Knowledge–Spirit of Wisdom

I have always been curious. I love going to museums, libraries, and historical sites. Hours spent in conversation, sharing ideas, testing concepts, and delighting in growing just a bit more in the company of a friend – these are treasures in my life.
As I move through the years, I find that my interests in one topic lead me to others. It is like watching a tree grow. The roots and branches spread out as the initial seed of curiosity grows deeper and higher.

When I was younger, I used to fear that I was unfocused; that my curiosity drove me forward to grow my base of knowledge with cancerous design. Was my curiosity disordered and a waste of time and energy? Was I merely following after phantoms that would prove to have no substance? Did my mind lack discipline – chasing after leaves like a child at play? When was I too old to run hither and thither?  Continue reading

Comparing Memories

Comparing Memories

Some memories get recalled again and again. We tell them as narrative refrains that are mixed in with accounts of new experiences — ‘It was just like back when . . . ‘ Sometimes memories are drawn out to be retold (or silently remembered) at certain times of year — like the memory of a good bye on the anniversary of the last time a loved one was seen.

Memories are not simply what happened to us then. Memories are how we build our now out of the stuff of what we’ve carried inside of us from before.

Teaching history, I am intrigued by memory. It is the source for our understanding of the past and of the present. But it is a flowing resource and a work in progress. To understand the power of memory — and its potentials for shaping our nows and our futures — it is important to observe that memory is not solidly fixed and it should not be assumed to be static.  Continue reading

The Love of Stories Read Aloud

The Love of Stories Read Aloud

She began almost every class after lunch by reading to us.

We were sixth-graders. She was our teacher during the class period right before lunch and the class period right after. The subjects she taught were English and Social Studies.

How could one possibly teach anything to adolescents before and after lunch? It was crazy . . . something that could only make sense to a middle school administrator.

Fifteen minutes. Sometimes twenty or more. She read to us as we digested our meals and cooled down from time on the playground. I can still hear Mrs Y’s voice. I can even remember many of the stories she read from books about twelve and thirteen year-olds like ourselves.  Continue reading

Our French Revolution

Our French Revolution

The syllabus prescribed that my graduate students and I would spend the three-hour class discussing the French Revolution. I’d assembled my lecture notes. I’d reminded everyone what they needed to read before class. I was reasonably certain most of us would be prepared.

Stepping in front of the classroom, I sketched out the noteworthy milestones we needed to cover in our one-class survey of a very big topic. Students busily typed on their laptops or wrote in their notebooks. I sat down on the table that served as my desk and swung my legs forward and back; waiting for everyone to give me their attention. I had an idea. It came to me as I sat there. And then, I began . . .  Continue reading

The Puppet and Mrs S

The Puppet and Mrs S

I was dyslexic before educators knew what dyslexic was. So, seeking to explain why I couldn’t spell, why I stumbled all over whatever I was told to read aloud, and why I was slow to complete assignments, I was called lazy, stupid, and an assortment of other things. The low-point of my first grade year in school was being made to stand in the corner of the room as punishment for not being able to read a paragraph aloud without errors. Humiliation was part of pedagogy back then. I was an over-sensitive child who felt like I was being put into the public stocks in a 17th century New England town.

I don’t know how I eventually got referred to the school’s reading specialist. That came after I’d gotten to the point that I hated school and I’d even stopped having interest in books (which I’d loved since my parents started reading to me — long before my earliest memories).

Mrs S was a young woman in her mid-20s. Of course, she didn’t seem young to me at the time (mid-20s being on the nearer end of ‘ancient’). She was an openly kind and compassionate person. She was a keen observer and she did not rush to label behaviour. The first few weeks she watched me, sat and talked with me, and encouraged me to read. I couldn’t.  Continue reading

The Freedom of Folded Paper

The Freedom of Folded Paper

When I was in my teens and twenties I bought notebooks of all kinds. I saw these as the workshops for my ideas. Much of my thinking was (and is) connected with the act of writing. I liked notebooks because I could take them with me anywhere, they came in different sizes and styles, and I could even choose the sort of paper they contained — the colour, lines or no lines (or even what kind of lines).

Nevertheless, with all that freedom, I often found myself paralyzed when I poised my pen over the paper and got ready to write. Would the thoughts be good enough? Would I want to see them there later when I read through the contents of the notebook? The formality of the structure of the notebook itself added a sense of importance to what would go inside of it. Most days, I carried around a notebook and never wrote in it. The pages would get wet when I was caught in a sudden rainstorm. They would be coloured by splashes of coffee. But the words written came slowly.  Continue reading

In-Class Discussions and Those Who Are Not Quick to Speak

In-Class Discussions and Those Who Are Not Quick to Speak

He sat there and never added a word to the conversation. From semester to semester his professors asked him, encouraged him, and even begged him to participate. He was a graduate student. Seminars were about sharing ideas with each other.

He, in turn, was frustrated. He was taking things in, thinking, forming his own thoughts, having insights. But, by the time he was ready to say something, the conversation was already on another subject. Often, two or more subjects had come and gone. His thoughts were ‘old news.’

It didn’t help that he was also shy; almost to the point of feeling mortified by the prospect of jumping into a ‘real-time’ discussion of ideas. Some of the students were confident and did not worry about venturing ideas before even they knew what they meant. Some people, he realized, think out loud (and sometimes not even very well!).

That ‘he,’ of course was me as a student. Continue reading