Thursday, May 10, 2012


Some days I feel there is something just so wrong going on with our society. We are more divisive, less tolerant of one another, and we live in what seems to be an increasingly violent and short-tempered world. I tended to believe we were just becoming more global. A bus goes off a hillside in the Andes, we hear about it. A village is flooded in Myanmar, it is news. Some terrorist is able to perfect an underwear bombing scheme... REALLY? I substitute teach during the school year, and this year I often feel the end of the regular school year can't come soon enough. I'm teaching summer school, this year, and I am really excited about it. I'll have the same students for each of four different hours of the day for twenty days. I get to teach fractions, percentages, and proportions (which I just love manipulating). Fractions are somehow like art or music. They are beautiful for themselves. It's my favorite part of math. And I get to do a class of my own devising, "Life Before Electronics: Exploring Hobbies". My goal with LBE is to expose kids to something not non-stop, not computer-aided. I want this 45-minute block of their summer school to be self-directed. I'll guide, but I hope the kids will feel relaxed enough to explore some of the live-long hobbies I have so enjoyed. So many students say they are bored or have nothing to do when I see them in the course of the regular school day. Or when asked their hobby, reply with, "Playing video games?" Like it counts. Yesterday, I subbed for Art. For a couple of my longer classes we were able to walk the couple blocks over to high school and take in the whole school district art show. There were probably 2,000 items on display. Some of the students finished in 20 minutes. Twenty minutes? I was there twice, and I couldn't take it all in. My two later classes having short 30-minute art classes were left to work on finishing projects from the previous class or upon completing those, sketching. So, it being art, I brought along my own sketch on which I have been working. I believe modeling good things helps. When I teach music, I bring my clarinet. In preparation for my Handsome Son's Graduation, which is being referred to here as "Commencement" as it is the same day as my father's 79th birthday and we are celebrating a new year for him and a beginning for my son; I have been trying to get my house and yard "in order." Redecorating the living room has been a slow year long project, a major part coming with laying carpet a couple weeks ago. With the laying of carpet came a new furniture layout and the realization I needed a sofa table. But not any sort of reasonable sofa table, given my tiny house, a trapezoidal sofa table. I am into Gustav Klimt and have two of his prints on my living room walls. I thought I would try my hand at incorporating the feel of the organic and decorative detailing into a painted piece for this sofa table. So I am working on my sketch at the front of the classroom. The students are busy chatting and drawing, for the most part. Every so often, I get up and look over the shoulder of the budding artists, some with much more talent than I. Every so often there is a child crying out for attention, slapping his ruler against the table, testing it, the table, and my tolerance for this annoying and potentially destructive behavior. Today, I was able to quell the ruler slacker with eye contact and a Vulcanian raised eyebrow. Other days, I am not so lucky. And then I hear it. Cra-a-ack! And again. Crac-a-ck! The slow cracking of pencils. Lined up on the back counter are a few boxed of miscellaneous markers, crayons, and colored pencils. Four boys stand together, but instead of searching out a favorite shade of cerulean, charcoal, or lime green, they are looking for the longest and most elegant of the pencils still remaining at this point in the school year and two at a time, breaking them in half. They are not looking to see if they have my attention. They are completely enthralled by the sound of their dominance over a box of hapless pencils. What is so broken with these particular boys that this behavior is so absorbing. The rest of the class realizes I am on the move now. When I reach them and peer over their shoulders I realize they have broken not 4-6 pencils, but maybe 50! They are sent back to their tables. My somewhat carefree mood goes slightly dark. "What possesses you?" I look at them as a group. "Such destructive behavior!" In a class, where they can chat with their tablemates, express themselves, move around the room, and have endless sources of inspiration, mindless destruction of a box of hapless pencils seemed the preferred activity.

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