Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I’ve been repeatedly told, over the years, that I must keep in mind the many differences among all of my students, and I definitely agree, but I must also remember that, in one sense, there are actually no differences whatsoever. One of the definitions for different is “separate”, and it is easy to drift into seeing my students as separate, distinct entities, each one an individual with unique skills and weaknesses. That, in fact, is the perception upon which our entire educational system, and our whole culture, seems to be based – that all of us, my students included, are separate, isolated individuals struggling to turn on our independent and inimitable lamps. Of course, in order to participate dutifully and effectively in our educational system, I occasionally do have to think this way – that each student is different and distinct, and that I must help each of them go his or her own exclusive way in the world. It’s convenient to accept this approach – to play this game – because it helps the students find success in our artificial educational structures -- success meaning simply high grades and excellent test scores. It’s somewhat like a mariner pretending that there are specific, separate “things” called currents in the ocean. This pretense definitely helps him navigate across an ocean, but at the same time he stays fully aware that there are, in reality, no such “things” as isolated currents – just a vast, unified ocean that seems to move in fairly consistent patterns. I guess I try to see each of my classes as a sort of human sea (an immense one, I should add), in which the students together (not separately) make up the currents. For the sake of grades, tests, conferences, records, and so on, it’s convenient to think of the students as separate learners in their own separate seas of learning, but it’s just a bit of make-believe, a useful game. The reality is that my classes are uncharted teenage oceans, complete with storms and surf and doldrums and crazy currents. Morgan and Asia and Joseph are no more separate from each other than one current in the ocean is separate from another, or one wave from another. The students are part of life, and life, as science is revealing more and more clearly, is as interconnected as drops of water in a stream. It would be silly to give a grade to a single drop of water, and it seems silly to me to give grades to individual students. However, I do it, because that’s the game I have to play as I stand on the shore of a 9th grade class and admire the unsearchable sea in front on me.

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