Sunday, January 17, 2010


Exploring in the dictionary this morning, I discovered that both ballets and storms take place in my English classes. The word “conversation” derives from the Latin word for “turn with”, which is what ballet dancers do together on stage and what my students and I do when we talk with each other about literature. When we share ideas across the classroom, we try to turn toward each other in earnest partnership, and we often turn with each other as we adjust our thoughts and come to gracious agreements. It’s satisfying to think of our conversations as a kind of dance – sometimes litigious and free-wheeling, to be sure, but perhaps always stylish in a coarse and youthful way. Of course, classroom conversations can also be called discussions, and the dictionary tells me that these might be better compared to storms than dances. When I read that the word “discuss” comes, to my surprise, from the Latin words for “shake apart’ or “dashed to pieces”, I immediately thought of the many occasions when ideas were flying around my classroom in the blustery weather of adolescent disagreements. Usually the students have maintained a modicum of civility during these tempestuous discussions, but still, a visitor walking into the room might decide to take cover. When young, impassioned people discuss in a sincere and liberated way, ideas will, in fact, be shaken apart, and a few cherished thoughts might be dashed to pieces. It’s as far from a ballet as you can get, but perhaps, in its way, just as beautiful.

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