“Our old-fashioned country life had many different aspects, as all life must have when it is spread over a various surface, and breathed on variously by multitudinous currents, from the winds of heaven to the thoughts of men, which are forever moving and crossing each other with incalculable results.”
-- George Eliot, Silas Marner
I’ve always thought of my classroom as a sort of “old-fashioned” place, but I never actually stopped to consider what that might mean until I read this passage this afternoon. There are, for sure, “many different aspects” in my classroom, which is understandable given the amazingly miscellaneous group of kids who come to me each day. They are as different from each other as galaxies are from neighboring families of stars, as different as first-rate summer days are from lingering, melancholy winter days. Trying to understand each of them, I find, is like trying to understand a snowflake or a fast-flowing river. Thankfully, these days, after decades of teaching, it’s become easy for me to feel the “multitudinous currents” coursing through the classroom – the countless forces and influences that subtly persuade us to think this thought or say these words. My young students and I are forever feeling the effects of energies effortlessly “moving and crossing each other”, caring for us all by bringing us the bright future of new feelings and thoughts. What’s scary -- and somewhat exhilarating -- is that all of this leads to perfectly “incalculable” results, to ends that are as capricious and unforeseeable as the formations of clouds. I enjoy pretending that students can accomplish the specific goals I set, but it’s only a pleasant deception. The fact, as Eliot knew, is that old-fashioned life, whether in early 19th century England or my modest classroom in Connecticut, is more multitudinous and whimsical than the winds that spin and swirl around our school in their uncertain ways. Predicting what will take place on a certain day in Room 2 resembles the craziness of guessing precisely how snowflakes will land in the grass.