Note: Sorry if this old article shows up in your newsreader. I needed to change a few filenames, and my site’s RSS generator might pick up the changes and republish the articles.
Anyone who has ever been on a hike, inebriated late at night, or refreshed early in the morning can tell you that the best conversations cannot be forced. When the air is fresh, the senses focused, the mood right - only at such times will the Muse begin her song.
Classrooms are ill-suited for genuine, in-depth conversations. They are run by one individual, limited by time, crowded, indoor, and the seats are uncomfortable. Members of a classroom are obligated to be there, and most forms of jesting, fighting, and crying are discouraged. The Muse can choose any audience: Why would she sing to such an unnatural and unhappy crowd?
This article is not about the shortcomings of any system of education. For now, I accept that broad-scale education cannot be as inspiring as a walk through the woods or a twilight dialogue. But it can be better than it is right now.
Start small: Students should blog their essays.
They need to be reminded that they are part of this world - not just components of a tiny classroom. Understanding common literary themes is important, because that wisdom helps people live well - not because it will get them good grades. When a student recognizes this, the quality of their writing will improve. The stakes are higher, so they will take more risks and enjoy the work more.
And they will remember. Students forget an assignment after its completion, because the assignment is the only part of the learning process over which they have any control. By preserving an essay, opening it up to discussion with people who have lived some of the lessons about which the student is learning, and removing the grade dynamic, the value of the assignment becomes unpredictable and thus intersting (and thus less temporary).
I firmly believe that a child’s mind expands to fill the space it is allowed. Let’s encourage our students to broaden their worlds and blanket us in the warmth of their brilliance.