Thursday, September 02, 2010

Not Conquering -- Discovering

The learning process often seems to involve variations on the idea of “conquering” – we might speak of getting the better of assignments, overcoming obstacles, surmounting previous achievements, and rising above weaknesses – but this year, for some reason, I’m seeing the entire process as more about discovering than conquering. I would like my students to come to class prepared more for a focused expedition of discovery than a relentless and punishing ordeal. When they walk into my room, I hope to see more smiles than grimaces, more expressions of anticipation than of trepidation. In a way, exploring literature and learning to write with distinction should not be a distressing experience. It might even be as easy a process as uncovering the hideaways of crickets or walking into a cave to come across its secret creatures. The crickets and the creatures are there waiting, and so, in a sense, are the truths of books and the skills of superior writing. You might say all the students have to do is take the time (and it sometimes take a long time) to do the cheerful finding. I don’t for a minute mean to suggest that what we call “hard work” isn’t involved in this discovery process – just that it’s different from the work of conquering. Conquering involves a contest of some sort, a competition, a struggle, a fight to the finish, whereas discovering simply involves looking faithfully and carefully. Many students see school as a struggle, but I hope my English students see it as more of a quest. To find the truth in a poem, the students just have to keep their hearts and minds always open as they read the words again and again. If that’s work, it’s work of a wonderful kind, and I hope my students see it that way.

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