frivolity’s function

“Hey Mrs. Clark! We have a question for you!”

It was the very beginning of class. I smiled. I have taught these kids for nearly three years now and I had the sneaking suspicion that this question would have nothing to do with the text we had been working with. But I also knew that it would probably evoke a good bit of laughter…which is always welcome. School days are too long to reject or deny a break from the monotony of routine.

So what was this question that they were so anxious to ask?

“Okay, we’ve been debating this all day and we need more input. Are you ready?”

One can never be ready in these moments.

“Is a pop-tart actually a form of ravioli?”

Just a little bit of background. This is my AP Literature class. Seniors…who will populate some of the best universities in this country next year. Their schedules are intense because college admissions is intense. Their days are full of AP and honors courses; their evenings are full of homework, part time jobs, extra-curriculars and other responsibilities. And still this hotly debated topic was the one thing they couldn’t wait to share. (And also, don’t lie–you know you are having this argument in your own head right now…for the record, I said no…pastry not pasta was my criterion…we are still arguing…).

It would’ve been easy to be frustrated in this moment of distraction from our purpose. It would have been simple to shut down the question and admonish the frivolity…to drone on about wasted class time and how much we have to do. I could have been offended or self-conscious that our coursework wasn’t entertaining enough. I could have assumed that my agenda was more important.

Except, these kids are the reason I am in that room…they are the reason I teach. Their personalities lend levity and dimension to my days. Moments like this fill my classroom with joy and delight and wonder. Allowing an off-topic debate such as this humanizes my role as the teacher (and principal) and proves that I respect my students for who they are, where they are in this life.

I spend the hours prior to this class sifting through administrative duties…tasks I never imagined would be my responsibility because, honestly, I never wanted to be a principal. Not ever. This particular school and its particular quirkiness drove me to the madness of applying for the position. I couldn’t stand the thought of some new person, an intruder of sorts (dramatic, I know, but also true), coming in and potentially changing the heart of this place. So here I am. Answering a gazillion emails, filling out paperwork, creating and enforcing rules, moving in and out of endless meetings. It is exhausting. These kids make every bit of it worth it.

Every

single

day.

So yes, I entertain debates of this nature (you should know that “Is a hot dog a sandwich or a taco?” came up as well…). Because when it comes down to it, we will always make time for reading and writing…there will still be conversations about literary analysis and how to write a good beginning rather than an intro that reflects some geometrical shape…we will always make time to read the poetry that moves our souls…there will still be writers notebooks to create space for wordplay. But none of this work succeeds–none of it means anything to them–if I don’t also make space for allowing my kids to express themselves, if I don’t care about hearing their voices.

We didn’t spend a ton of time in this debate (which, by the way, their arguments were impressively substantiated). But everyday since, I have found myself smiling at the nonsense of it. I have found myself grateful for my kids and for this job that gives me access to moments like this. I have found myself thinking that anyone who doesn’t have the privilege of teaching for a living is missing out. I have found myself grateful that I work in a place that understands that kids (and teachers) just need to be who they are.

Even and especially when that means we pause for a moment and indulge in a bit of silliness.

(Positivity Project day 2)

 

ask

So, I’ve spent the weekend with teachers from around the country talking about and considering the importance of inquiry and literacy for kids. Even though we have all come from different places, it just so happens that this institute is being held in my home town, New Orleans. However, despite being in my actual hometown, I have found myself confronted and surrounded by more thoughtless stereotypes about this city that I love and about what it could mean to be from here than at any other point in my life–which has also heightened my realization that the number of people who buy into these over generalizations and the number of people who label the residents of this city based on those assumptions is far larger than I might have originally thought.

I suppose I sort of insulate myself–wrap myself in the belief that surely people know there is something more to the fabric of this richly historic town, something more to its culture and to the people who cling to it fervently than just raucous drunkenness. More than just a Southern drawl (that actually doesn’t even exist here). More than the sort of grotesque caricature shown in film and on television that is fun to imagine but denies the complexity of reality.

I just assumed that people would know better. I felt like if nothing else, the resilience and spirit the people of this city displayed in the aftermath of Katrina should have helped to erase some of the broad brush strokes. People weren’t just clinging to a city in those days; they were clinging to their home. But time has passed and I suppose those images have become blurry, maybe a little forgotten.

So, as I attempt to absorb and understand the nature of these predispositions, as I attempt to inform without sounding too defensive, I recognize that as frustrating as this bias has been, I don’t have to face it everyday. On any given day, I am mostly surrounded by native Louisianians. But, there are far too many people in this world who have been walled in by stereotypical expectations and who live every single day of their lives trying to break free from that prison of sorts. I have come to realize that just as teachers at this institute  have been breaking away from their assumptions by working through an inquiry process, through a question asking process to uncover some truths about this city and its people, we need to be conducting inquiry every single day of the week in every week of every year to uncover the truth of those around us. We need to take the time to ask the questions that will scratch past the facade we have created with our simplistic assumptions.  We need to ask questions that show interest in actually understanding rather than gathering ammunition to further judgement. We need to ask questions so that we can listen and consider the information and then reconsider our original thoughts. We need to ask questions without fear of having to admit we were wrong–because that admission is where the change begins.

I’ve lived in or near this city my whole life and felt like I didn’t really need this inquiry group study. Except in asking questions on our topic, I realized there was still more to uncover. I was reminded that my story and understanding of this city is just one of many and that I haven’t paid nearly enough attention to some of the threads that make the fabric of this town so rich, so vibrant. In acting as though we know the truth of a person or community or faith or country without ever asking or seeking to know more, without ever hearing the narrative of the person or people living the reality, we will live our lives ignorant of the vibrance of the whole story. And that loss is profound. That loss is dangerous.

Ask.

(Day 15 of the king cake season writing challenge–this could have easily been about the Saints playoff game instead…figured I would channel that energy here instead…can’t win them all I suppose…)