Monday, June 23, 2008


M is for Maze

I have come to believe that it is good for my students to feel lost in my class. After all, if they feel lost, then they will be able, eventually, to experience the wonderful joy of being found. I think of mazes in this regard, and of the pleasure it gives most of us to finally discover the “way out”, especially if we have been wandering through the pathways for a great length of time. In fact, the longer we are lost, the more satisfying and thrilling is the sighting of the welcome exit. A well-designed maze offers, paradoxically, both serious frustration and immense satisfaction. One dictionary defines a maze as “an intricate, usually confusing network of interconnecting pathways”, and, to me, this would be an accurate description of a good high school English class. My classes should be “intricate” because the study of words and ideas is a thoroughly complex and elaborate enterprise, and the classes should at least occasionally be “confusing” because a healthy confusion is what intricacy naturally creates. (Yes, in the learning process, confusion can be exceedingly healthy.) However, for me, the most important word in the definition is “interconnecting”. The students may sometimes feel lost as we study Dickens or participles or the uses of irony, but the great underlying and reassuring truth is that everything in English class is interconnected, and therefore there is always a way out. This interconnectedness is not created by any careful planning on my part, but is simply there, in the same way that it’s present in all of nature, and in all of the universe. Everything is interconnected – Dickens with participles, irony with Dickens, participles with George Eliot, the sun with Dickens and all the planets, the stars with Eliot and each other, and on and on. If English class is often bewildering and frustrating, I say Good! for now my students have the opportunity to discover the grand interconnectedness that ties the maze of English class – and the universe – together.

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