The other way to ‘Reading’

The 20April14 education writer in the local newspaper described the teaching of “The Grapes of Wrath” the past nine years at an area High School. Repetition of studied material is such a good thing to do. Good studying put me in mind of a six week summer-school study I was assigned, a make-up class for seven freshman-to-sophomore school children who’d been failed at the English class that semester. Failed! English!, all born American-English speakers.
Of course the failure besides of the school system, is of the teacher, forced into the exigencies of holding down a classroom with all the controlling, conventional requirements – expectations of care far beyond what the school day permits: maintaining ‘order’, keeping records, and most onerous, complying with the requirement to write lesson plans. Lesson plans are required regardless 1. that the teacher is quite knowledgeable about the subject and 2. the students or daily events are likely to bring so many other options to bear that day and time. If those are not in the lesson plan responses about them negate the student/s.
People in a group read the reactions by the leader to one student, as a reaction to themselves. If the response by the leader solicits positive interaction over some issue the person raises, others in the group can expect positive responses about their own interjection – unless of course, a student has had bad experiences in a classroom, …in this classroom – previously.
The lesson plan is really about the directives of public education, not about responding with the variety of people present. The directives are about how to make them conform to a pre-pared set of requirements for the 40 minutes – in this case, 3 hours.
The children, any students benefit from the respect given one student’s input – maybe an idea outside the lesson plan.
I had a 6 week class – students to whom to teach English.
I told them that in order to pass the class they all had to have a library card.
The response was the gamut from – ohhh – groan, to some indication that ‘of course I have a card’. This tells the range of class membership in the class. Some students will have been unable or nearly unable to keep a steady personal address, to have the necessary identification – the necessary assistance from a parenting person for all of the reasons you can think of; others being more fortunate in their living circumstance that having a library card indicates, in these mixed communities.
And I told them the following list of instructions:
Get something to read.
Bring it to class.
Read a piece from it to the class.
Take it home after class.
Read some of it to someone at home.
Write a something because of the reading.
Read the writing to someone at home.
Bring the writing in and read it to the class.
Give it to me to go over for quality of the production.
Rewrite it according to corrections I make in spelling, or in sentence or paragraph structure (I think NO ONE did this one.)
They asked what I’d say if they brought in something that was not acceptable (giggle). Of course I said I’d tell them to get and bring something else. I can’t remember, but it seems to me now that everyone brought in acceptable material.
Meanwhile I’d been told to go to the book closet and bring a set of English text books into the classroom. I did. I put them on a counter – and left them there.
I also brought some books I’d collected for years, books I’d thought I’d like to hear read aloud from.
So we proceeded through this list of activities. Everyone could read. And everyone could write. English. I guaranteed them we’d only be speaking and writing English as it was pretty much the only language is was able to read and write, and the one I was hired to teach that period.

So I wasn’t starting from a beginning – well, maybe it was a beginning…you know, you don’t get a chance to come back to people in this kind of relationship, to find out if they’d had anywheres near! the joyous time I’d had.
I was thrilled.
And I took them on a boat tour at the Wharf. This entails many many things besides just taking the boat. We’d have to get permission notes. We’d have to all show up to go. And we’d have to get back in time! We’d have to take the bus. One of the most pleasant things I was able to arrange as often as I could get away with it, was to take ‘my’ children out in regular situations, a bus ride to go somewhere. …and hear people on the bus say how wonderfully my children behaved (I’d expected no less. I hadn’t even asked for an accompanying parent-er. I knew the behavior would be perfect. And that it’d be difficult for a parent to come with – the cost; most work, or look for work.)
At the Wharf came the expecteds – ‘oh I’ve never been here before!’ Yes, it was far, 9 miles. But San Francisco – EVERYone goes to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s one bus ride and a bit of walking! (I felt such a hero!, taking them where they’d never before gone, to a place they likely’d heard of!)
I took them to the MoMA, (does every place have a MoMA, now? …a Museum of Modern Art). There was an exhibit of landscaped spaces by Lawrence Halprin. We met the docent with whom I’d made an appointment to take us through the exhibit. I liked doing that. I had a sense their opinions about the trip would take time to happen – I don’t remember anyone saying what they thought of it.
I brought a dancer – Martha Graham style – into the classroom. And a poet. I had a great time!
The children – I think it’s difficult for people, children, who live a hard scrabble life – materially and emotionally – to know and say, I’m having a great time, with a more or less stranger, me – especially when it’s different from the usual. And I am the opposite of screaming you’re having fun say so you’re having fun right? is this a fun thing or what? etc. Let ‘m figure it out for themselves someday, …maybe.
And we read and wrote a lot – of English. That was the best part of this brilliant, so fortuitous happenstance.
You could see each of them get interested in what was being read out, and in what they were reading out to the class – you could see it – they liked it – or, cared to be involved in it – not out loud, except for self-initiated talk about the reading – but just some body language – a glance, a face turned toward the speaker – you could see it.
At the end if the assignment I had to sit through a review of my performance. I really didn’t want to. I don’t get good revues – except for a line or a word here or there. I don’t like having to hang around to see if maybe this time it’ll be different…
Guess what that acting principle said to me – that I remember.
She kind of indirectly – not looking directly at me – groaned and said I took them out too much….!


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