I opted not to purchase a car when I moved to San Jose because, quite frankly, I hate cars. On average, a car’s value depreciates 19% within the first year of ownership. They insist that you care for them as if they’re living beings – feed me, clean me, insure me – and Mother Nature doesn’t respond well to the pollution they cause. While I understand the need many folks have for car ownership, I live in a big city where, most of the time, it’s just not necessary. Public transportation is reliable (and a dream for this writer/people watcher). It requires more thought, more planning than just walking into the garage, but it’s worth it!
I’m not suggesting that the pedestrian lifestyle is easy. Twice this week I’ve hurled materials for my classroom onto my shoulder(s) and trudged from stores to bus stops to school. We must have pumpkins for our pumpkin study, you know. And birdseed must replace the fall leaves in our sensory table as we delve deeply into understanding the lives of those plants that, we’ve recently discovered, produce their own food. But how, oh how, did those plants get there? And, dang, why is all this learning so heavy?
When I arrived at my classroom today – of course I work on Saturday – I was downright exhausted. While I was in the garden supply store, it began raining. On my journey from there to school I had to stand in the rain while waiting to transfer to another bus that doesn’t come as often on the weekend schedule with twenty pounds of birdseed in tow. And, because my middle name is klutz, I slipped on the sidewalk right in front of the school and got more intimate with the birdseed than I’d planned! As a woman who has six screws in her ankle and spent weeks teaching small children from a wheelchair, every tumble is a trigger that fills me with the fear of re-experiencing post-orthopedic surgery pain. . .
After catching my breath, I poured the birdseed into a sensory table and ran my hands through it. Ahhhh! It was pure ecstasy, learning joy. “My babies are going to love this!” I thought. And that was it. I didn’t spend one more second thinking about the long, uncomfortable, and treacherous road that brought seed to table. I fast-forwarded my thoughts to the joy of watching thirty-eight tiny, perfect hands attached to nineteen tiny, perfect humans enjoy a sensory experience that will lead to new questions and deeper learning.
This got me thinking about the journey of learning itself. I encounter so many folks who think teachers and kids can just hop in a speedy vehicle made of scripted curricula, sentence stems, behavior charts and standardized tests (to name a few things) and head straight for the glorious destination of learning. But that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works. That vehicle comes with consequences. As soon as those lessons are over, those scaffolds are released, as soon as that vehicle is driven off the lot, its value depreciates. And the pollution destroys the very foundation of our great nation.
Only 83% of America’s students graduate from high school, while 73% of jobs require at least a high school diploma. Despite more than fifty years of attention, the achievement gap between students of color and those who are white persists. School-to-prison pipeline statistics are astounding:
I get it! Teachers come and go. Teachers NEED lives outside of work. Libraries filled with real books are expensive. And authentic experiences that create opportunities to acquire language in natural ways cost even more! Attending to the actual needs of children whose lives are being destroyed by traumatic experiences at home is hard work. However, if we want to do what is right for children, we won’t allow ourselves to be seduced by the wiles of expedience and we’ll opt to take the long, uncomfortable, treacherous, and, yes, costly road instead. If we want our kids to experience the ecstasy of deeper learning, learning joy, we must choose to be more thoughtful. We must choose the path that requires more planning. We must choose to do the heavy lifting. We must choose hard.
And when the children “arrive,” our thoughts won’t be fixed on the journey. We’ll just be thinking, “it was worth it!”