It is common for elementary age students to mistakenly capture their opponent’s King in a game of chess. During today’s chess club, I corrected a couple of kids. “You don’t actually capture the King,” I explained. “You win by arranging the board in such a way that the King is under attack and cannot get away. That is Checkmate.” I asked them to show me how this had happened.
When one of them walked me through the moves, I saw that a pinned piece had been moved, placing the King into check. You can’t do that. I took the opportunity to teach the whole chess club about pinned pieces.
A Pinned Piece in chess is a piece that is blocking an attack on the King. Moving it would place the King into check, and you aren’t allowed to do that.
How does this happen? Sometimes, a piece will be used to block an attack. If White has an exposed King (no White pieces in front of it), and Black moves a Rook onto the same file (vertical column on chess board), the White King is in check. A common defense might be to place the White Bishop in front of the White King. This is exactly what happened in today’s game.
At other times, crafty opponents might trap your piece by passive-aggressively attacking the King. They will arrange their pieces so that they would be attacking your King, if you were to move any of your pieces. You look for a way to shift your pieces into a more advantageous position, but they are locked down. Moving them would jeopardize your King. No can do! You begin to feel stuck, smothered, tied in a straight jacket.
As we were walking down the hallway of my school, heading toward the entrance where parents were waiting to gather their offspring, I closed the lesson on pins by summarizing some of the main points the club had discussed. Without even thinking, I shouted over my shoulder, “Even the most powerful piece can be made powerless with a pin.” That struck me as an important metaphor.
A highly skilled person with a lot of valuable experience is working a job that is way beneath their ability. Why? Why don’t they leave that job and work somewhere with better pay? If they did, they would lose their health insurance. Perhaps a retirement plan is pinned to their current job, and they must wait out the years, until they can cut the tie, or else jeopardize losing all of that savings. Maybe they have worked hard to climb the corporate ladder, and leaving would mean starting at the beginning! It could be pride, money, safety, or more pinning them to their powerless position.
Someone is in a relationship with a person who abuses them. How could they not just leave? Perhaps the abusive person has arranged all monetary and material assets in their name. The hurting individual would have to strike out on their own, penniless, not to mention poor in spirit! Maybe, the abusive person was cutting the person down emotionally. You don’t know how low someone can make another feel. Beliefs like, “I can’t do anything without my partner, because I am so dumb… I need her in order to feel good about myself… I am worthless without my family…” infect the heart and create, not cracks, but fissures in the Love Tank. Power pours out of a person squeezed by emotional abuse. They are pinned to their situation, and you can’t see it at all!
Can you think of any other examples of powerful people pinned to positions? If so, mention them in the comments.
Part of my lesson about Pinned Pieces on the chess board included how to avoid this predicament. “What could White do to get out of the Pin?” I began with.
A sharp student mentioned moving the White Rook over a space to block the pin. “Then the Bishop would be free (unpinned) to move around on the board. It could even attack the Knight on f5.”
“But, not before that Knight captured the Rook unpinning the Bishop, after having moved it to d6,” an even sharper student pointed out. “You could move Pawn to c6.”
“How would that solve the Pin Problem?” I inquired.
“The Black Rook would have to move in order to avoid capture.”
I studied the board. “Could Black simply move the Rook to another square, continuing the Pin?”
“Yes, d5 and d3 are both safe. And, if the White pawn advanced, the Black Rook could simply return to d4,” a collection of students offered.
A student in the back of the room raised her hand. I had to refresh my memory of her name before listening to her brilliant idea: “Move the King to c8.” Not only does this free the pinned Bishop, “It gives the King more spaces to move to. E7 is being attacked by the Black Knight,” she explained. Amazing thinking!
Unpin by removing the threat. Our highly skilled worker who would like to look elsewhere for a job might invest in a retirement situation outside of their job. Maybe they could acquire health insurance through a spouse or alternative situation. The abused romantic partner could find support in people or ideas independent of their relationship. They may not be able to “Block” the abuse, but removing the line of attack by getting out of the way could prove both saving and empowering.
In conclusion, if nothing else, analyzing situations from more than one angle can be a powerful way to govern one’s life. Treat your everyday scenarios like a chess match. They are full of cause and effect that, when analyzed carefully, could be played in powerful ways. This can extend to your life goals, as well. Evaluate your vision for the future. Is it “blocked” by a piece you wish would move out of the way? Are you “pinned” by being stuck where you are? Remove the pin or remove yourself, so that the powerless part of your life is no longer being pinned down. Free yourself.
I have known that this would be my fiftieth blog entry for a few weeks. I wanted it to be special, so I have taken some time to read, think, and prepare what I hope to be an epic entry. I thought it apropos to finally try to explain the philosophy of classiness I propose to captain. In preparation for this writing I revisited a chapter of a book that I read long ago.
I was raised by a mother who instilled in me the need to be nice to others, regardless of relation, race, creed, or gender. Unlike myself, she kept it simple: Be nice to everyone, period. “Turn the other cheek” was both preached and practiced in my home. My parents rarely argued, and if ever there was a disagreement, it was short-lived and ended in comfortable compromise. I witnessed the success of this, first-hand.
When I came across the chapter (12) “Nice Guys Finish First” in Richard Dawkins’s seminole work, “The Selfish Gene” (2006), I felt like all of my upbringing and my desire to mold classy citizens out of my students came into sharp focus. I had already invented “The Polite Pirates” and begun teaching classy behavior to second graders. As I read Dawkins’s explanation of Axelrod’s famous experiments using variations of The Prisoner’s Dilemma, I felt like everything I stood for was being justified… scientifically!
Revisiting this text several years later has been a rewarding experience. More than what it means to be classy, I am excited to share why one would benefit from taking up this mantle.
Beginning at the End: Vampires
I want to start by mentioning the very last concept that Dawkins uses to end his “Nice Guys Finish First” chapter (2006), because it pertains to piracy, part of my classroom theme. Probably as famous as pirates to young minds, but much more menacing, is the idea of vampires. Dracula, the most famous, albeit fictional, vampire flies around as a bat, transforms into a human, and uses his sharp fangs to drink people’s blood. This idea originates from real-live nonfiction vampire bats that really do suck the blood out of “hosts” during the darkness of night. Who would imagine that this kind of animal would practice polite behavior?
Well, they do… at least among friends. G.S. Wilkinson published a paper in the prestigious periodical, Nature, entitled “Reciprocal food sharing in the vampire bat” in 1984. His paper discusses the way vampire bats will share food with each other. The food in this case happens to be blood, but nonetheless, they demonstrate kindness by helping neighbors who were less fortunate during the evening hunt. If a bat returned to a community roost in the morning hungry because he did not find a host to draw blood, a friend actually regurgitated part of his supper so that his buddy would have some food to feast on. Why would the bat who had found a host and had his fill of blood be willing to help another? The study examined the relationship and actions between bats and found that the helpful bat was fed when it experienced a fruitless evening hunt. Basically, even vampires look out for one another.
This story of blood-sucking vampire bats ironically helping one another made me think of the contradictory term I have invented for the theme in my classroom: “Polite Pirates.” We plunder bad behavior and pillage rudeness. We do this politely, and we model classy conduct. One might not think of pirates as voicing “Please” and “Thank You”, but mine do more than that: They communicate class through helping others feel nice.
Making other people feel good is classy. If you are wondering if an activity is classy, ask yourself this question: “Would this behavior cause the people around me and/or the people who might be affected by it to feel nice?” If the answer is “No”, then it is not classy conduct.
On the way from the playground to the classroom students often tell me stories about things that happened during recess. Not too long ago one of my Polite Pirates told me about a peer who had done something awkward during recess. The story wasn’t bad, and this student wasn’t telling on her classmate. She was looking for some advice. I decided to make this the topic for my classy sit-down talk with the crew right before math, a practice we have been enjoying since the turn of the year.
“Rule number one, when it comes to being classy, is Making other people feel nice is the most important thing. Classy people help others feel good about themselves. If a person does something weird near you at recess, and it isn’t breaking the rules or hurting anything, do you think that it would be classy to tell them to ‘Stop it’? How about, ‘Go away’?” Gasps from my listeners told me the collective disapproval of such options.
“What about ‘Leave me alone.’ Could that be considered classy? What if the person is being really annoying?” I could see the students considering the classiness of this potential possibility. Before they solidified their attitudes, I headed them off. “Even if you add a polite ‘Please’ to this statement, being told to ‘Go away’ is nothing more than rejection, and there is nothing nice about that.”
I collected some ideas that students could say or do if someone was bothering them. My Polite Pirates love hypotheticals, and we enjoyed brainstorming some ideas.
“What if you invited the person to join you in a game? You could mention a simple compliment to give this person some attention. That is probably what he or she was after in the first place. Make sure that your compliment is genuine; be sure that you mean what you say, and that it is truthful. You could adjust the game a little to accommodate the newcomer.” Clearly, this was not the favorite option.
“How can you say ‘No’ without the person feeling rejection?” This got the cognitive cogs turning.
“Maybe next time,” was okay, but still rejection.
I suggested helping the person not be awkward: A simple “Hi there! What’s up?” could break the ice. Let the person talk to you for a time. Then resume whatever you were doing. That seemed okay to everyone, and we were able to begin math.
Number One Conundrums
The next day delivered new stories: What if making one person feel good makes another feel badly? Then what? Your playing with your friends, and a classmate shows interest in joining your group. In order to make the person feel nice, you invite him to join you. But, this upsets the rest of your friends. They were looking forward to playing with you, exclusively. What do you do?
“Because this is all hypothetical, wink/wink, we can go back in time to change some of the parameters,” I suggested. “Prior to inviting the newcomer to join you, it is important that you pitch or sell the idea of inclusion to your friends. They may not agree with having the solicitor join in your game and need some persuading. This should not be done within earshot of the asker; What if your friends are not as classy as you?” Nods from understanding listeners tell me to go on. “If they are on your side, the invitation will go more smoothly. If you cannot get your friends to join you in your quest to make others feel nice, you are at a fork.” My students, well-versed in the concepts of chess know this to mean that you are at a lose/lose conundrum; Either upset the solicitor of your friends.
“You could explain to the inquiring classmate that you and your friends had already begun playing a game, would like to have the person join you in the future, but would like to finish up this round the way it is,” I present to the attentive Polite Pirates. “In this way you are not rejecting the person, so much as postponing acceptance.” I also explained the nuance of HOW to communicate this kind of concept. If you do it well, the solicitor can know that you really care about both him and your friends, but are trying to make everyone feelspecial through this decision, which is exactly what you ARE doing.
I thought of and included a few more details that my class hadn’t imagined. “Don’t be overly persuasive with your friends. Like, don’t push them to make a decision to include the classmate, when they really don’t want to. They could resent you, having bad feelings toward your action, take out these feelings on the game, the newcomer, or even you. Also, you wouldn’t want the solicitor to feel like you allowed him to play with you out of pity, or that you or your friends regret letting him play with you.” This got everyone thinking and sharing. Every student sitting on the carpet had an example of a similar situation.
“If you do manage to sell your friends on the idea of including one more player, and they have good attitudes, the solicitor can feel that much happier, having a group of new friends, rather than one patron saint.” I probably did not use that title. “On the contrary, how do you think the inquiring classmate would feel if you invited him to join, but was mistreated?” More example stories.
Remember Rule No. 1: Making others feel nice is classy.
Why is it a good idea to be nice to others? Wrong answer: Because adults tell me to.
It takes energy to be nice to others. It is work. It’s not easy, sometimes.
Nice, Nasty, Neutral
Let’s take a closer look at the playground paradigm. What would you have to gain from being nice to someone soliciting company? Others might see you as someone who they want to help or hang around with. They now view you as a nice person; someone trustworthy with emotions; a good decision-maker. The lonely student asking to join could repay you in the future with a token of appreciation, the way the vampire bats repay one another. What might you lose? What kind of negative outcomes could develop as a result of your choosing to be nice to the solicitor? Witnesses to the event, or people who hear about it later might think that you will “accept anyone”; You could be viewed as being too accommodating. If you never say “No”, people could view you as someone who can be taken advantage of; weak. Someone who is all-inclusive may seem un-evaluating, unanalytical, not one for critical thinking, unintelligent.
You could have avoided these negative losses by rejecting the soliciting student, but this nasty option has its own set of drawbacks. This might save you face with your close friends who wanted to play with you exclusively, but the action would communicate, even to them, that if they were not on the “in” with you, they too would receive the cold shoulder. This could very well make them feel insecure. It might foster an “Us versus Them” attitude of exclusivity. This would be harmful because other classmates would learn that you are not open to new friendships. You could lose out on high-quality relationships. Also, rather than reciprocate your generous acceptance, the student who gets rejected will not behave favorably to you, when you may need something. His hand won’t be raised when he hears, “Who has a pencil (nonclassy student’s name) can borrow?” even though his desk is full of sharpened no. 2s.
Maybe you think it is acceptable to “stay out of it” and maintain a neutral position. There are times when this may seem best. A positive outcome might be the avoidance of a messy situation, dodging difficult decision-making that will expend energy, or keep from controversy. It is possible, in the end, that others could value your discernable intellect; Your ability to thwart trouble. This is a gamble, though, because you won’t know until afterward how the situation will play out. The negative side of neutrality is to be viewed by others as weak, unable to make decisions.
As you can see from the table, being nice will not cost you anything with other nice people. You have everything to gain. If you hang around with negative people, being nice may cost you a little. When you behave nastily around classy people, you have a lot to lose. They will not want to be your friend. You won’t feel nice because you have caused someone else pain. Even if you think that you will gain something being nasty because your friends are nasty, the table shows that this can backfire. It fosters an atmosphere of un-trust and insecurity.
If this scenario were to play out in a neighborhood playground where you and your buddies were shooting hoops, it would be slightly different from the schoolyard in that these outcomes would be temporary. A complete stranger asks to join you and your friends. Perhaps this person is visiting his grandparents for the day. The only people witnessing your actions are your close friends. You could “get away with” being nasty. All of the same outcomes still apply. They are smaller scale, but some of your friends are bound to have some classy bones in them and will view a nasty action as unattractive. They may think twice the next time playing with you is an option. A nasty action is sure to make the solicitor feel horrible, and this can’t make you feel good inside. Even if you think your friends like it, the nasty action will have deep-seated divisive effects that are imperceptible at first glance.
Take this scenario to school, though, and you get a very different picture. The solicitor is sure to be someone that you know and see regularly. There are bound to be many spectators, or at least people to relay the scene to, later. But, most importantly, it is not likely that the event be a one-time occurence. What if the same solicitor asks to play with you every day? Now, it is much more complicated… Or, is it?
In order to explore the cost/benefit analysis of niceness easier, let’s open the story up to all sorts of solicitations: “Can I borrow a pencil? Would you be my partner? May I sit here? Do you want to read together? How would you like to come over to my house for a playdate? What are you having for lunch (Do you want to talk to me)? Can I help you?” When asked any of these and a plethora of other schoolhouse questions, you can behave nicely or nastily; Neutrality would just be ignoring the question, and that would be considered nasty. The person asking the question could respond nastily or nicely, as well. For instance, someone inquires whether you’d like to read with her. You tell the person that you had already promised your friend that you would read with her, but that you would be happy to read with her next time. “Whatever!” the inquirer throws over her shoulder as she marches off to ask someone else. This nasty response takes something away from you; good feelings. It makes you feel badly.
There is something more, here: The idea of remembering how others treat you. Do you know, or have you ever met someone, who is nasty all of the time? How easy is it to be nice to that person? Would you rather hang around with, that person or someone who is generally nice? You might get away with being nasty to a stranger at a neighborhood playground, one time. But, when you create a reputation for being nasty among people you see everyday, you will not attract classy comrades.
In addition to remembrance, forgiveness plays a key role in classily handling schoolhouse situations. While someone who behaves unclassily over and over may be a person to avoid, it is important to give people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the scissors solicitor was having a bad day when he gave you a nasty look after you told him you didn’t have any. Should you never talk to him again? That wouldn’t be nice either.
Polite Piracy is Classy
“The Polite Pirates” was the theme that I chose for my very first long term sub position 8 years ago. I liked it because of the alliteration, piracy is an attractive concept, and I wanted to not only foster good behavior in the classroom, but help my students be upstanding citizens of the world.
In preparation for my very first meeting with the students who I would be teaching from November through the rest of the year I came up with a story to teach the skill of summarizing. This story not only taught the skill, but also introduced the classroom theme. I used paper puppets of characters whom would help guide us through many lessons, both academic and also social, during that year.
The woman pirate has a funny characteristic. Her name is spelled “Mary,” but she insists on having it pronounced “Muh-ree.” Although this all started from my silly lesson about students producing summaries, the concept stuck. Students love it, reminding one another how to pronounce Mary’s name. This turned into a lesson on respect. Sure, Mary’s name is spelled in such a way that you wouldn’t typically pronounce it the way she insists. But, that is her request, and we are polite in honoring it. It wouldn’t be nice to pronounce it any other way.
A funny characteristic of the second character, Zeus, is that he is the cook, but he is forever seasick from the rocking of the ship. So, the Polite Pirates have a sick chef. It isn’t nice, however, to point out his discoloration, other than asking him if feels alright.
The final comrade of this trio is the captain of the Polite Pirates. This guy is quite hilarious. His large round cranium isn’t the only ridiculous thing that Captain Iron Knee lugs around. He literally has an iron knee. While of course this truly has to do with the contradiction of his being a pirate, while pushing politeness, I have yet to develop a good tale about how the captain acquired his iron knee. We are happy to witness his furtive irony displayed in many ways. He is both silly and wise; handsome and hideous; appreciative and dismissive; respectful and sometimes rude; while strong and swift, he is hindered by his heavy iron knee; and the list goes on, but ALWAYS and above all else, he is classy.
The piracy of this cast (and there are more) comes into realization when they steal nastiness from others. There is plenty out there, and so I am recruiting. In addition to the students in my room each year, I am interested in captaining a class of people from all walks of life, every gender, and all ages. I hope that you join me on the journey toward ever-increasing classiness. I do not profess to being the classiest. I have simply decided to make it “me mission” to champion classiness.
What do you think?
What would you characterize as the most important, number one rule for being classy? Do you agree or disagree with me; Why/How?
Dawkins, R. (2006). The Selfish Gene(30th Anniversary Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
We kicked off our “Reading Super Bowl” the other day. The students were pumped to be competing against one another. The line to go to the busses at the end of the day was buzzing with how many footballs each was going to be bringing in the next day.
Today was only day two of our contest, and students came to school baring both footballs and questions. I find it helpful to sit everyone down on the carpet and go over some extra ground rules: 1. It is okay to bring footballs in a day or two late. You won’t lose your minutes if you forget, or mom/dad was too busy. 2. Only take as many footballs as you truly imagine completing that evening. (Kids will take five sheets of paper=30 footballs=600 minutes or ten hours; probably not realistic in one night;) 3. Even though you are not inside the school building at recess, you can’t bring a book outside to read. Run around; that is what recess is for. While I appreciate the enthusiasm, the lunch/recess aids have enough to do without initialing a million footballs…
While covering these and more rules and regulations, I began to back away from the parameters of the competition and focus my message on what the contest is actually meant to do: foster a love for reading and develop reading
habits. In the past the class was privy to the mantra “Everyone who reads wins”, but I hadn’t spelled out the underlying agenda of the “Reading Super Bowl”. This year I just flat out told students, “I would rather you only read 20 minutes a day, but wish that you had more time to read and love the time that you did spend reading, than bring four footballs (80 minutes of reading) in to class each day.”
I worded this concept a few different ways with multiple examples, and the students seemed to understand. After each student shared an exciting tale of how much he or she read the night before, I asked what was read and how much the student enjoyed it. It only took a few of these exchanges before students began discussing book series and future books that they wanted to read. Now we were getting somewhere! Rather than championing the paper footballs and minutes read, my students were looking forward to the actual reading.
In previous years, I have asked parents to send in pictures of their kids reading at home so I can include them in movies that summarize the whole competition. I might have parents contribute these earlier in the game, this year. In this way, we will focus on the plays rather than only the score.
Earlier this year a student from my room hurt the feelings of a peer by pointing out a physical characteristic that contrasted the child’s appearance with the other kids in the classroom. The rudeness was unintentional (Whitman, n.d.), but painful nonetheless.
The only reason that I knew about this interaction was the hurt child came over and told me about it. It almost seemed like she wasn’t sure if she should be upset or not. As she told me her story, others, overhearing the tale, chimed in with their two-cents. This additional commentary seemed to spin the story into a negative frenzy, so that I put an end to the retelling in order to address the class.
I talked to my third grade students about the effect that pointing out differences among people can have. I explained that while the observant student may not have done anything overtly wrong, it wasn’t polite to focus on what makes someone different from you. It is great to be proud of what separates you from others; These characteristics make us unique and special, but don’t draw attention to how other people are different from you. Rather, we should celebrate our similarities.
What the boy did when he pointed out the way a little girl looked different from himself was a natural thing to do. We humans can’t help but categorize things (Vanderbilt, 2016). We have genres for music, books, movies, art, dance; You name it! It’s much easier to find things when they are labeled. When I’m in the mood to read a mystery, it’s much faster and easier to go to that section of the bookstore, rather than sift through every single shelf. But, what about those books that are very funny true stories about a person’s life that happen to also be highly mysterious? Now what? Often times, we simply create a new category.
Tom Vanderbilt (2016) goes a step further, suggesting that the more we like something, the more we want to categorize. A person who enjoys candy will separate a bag of treats into several groups of like sweets. How many times has the book-lover rearranged his or her library, recategorizing titles? I have grouped books that I read close in chronology, only to separate them after reading new texts.
The problem with doing this to people is that genre-making exaggerates differences (Kaufman, 2012). When we categorize things, we look for what makes them unique. When it comes to relationships, it is wise to seek similarities over identifying differences. Contrasting characteristics can create wedges and rifts between people. Locating, examining, celebrating, and strengthening the things we have in common will pull people closer together. This will build relationships that will be useful, helpful, comfortable, and enduring.
I came up with an activity to help reinforce this concept in my classroom. I call it “Building Bridges”. We have a snack/play time in the afternoons, when we give ourselves a brain break. I instituted a “constructive” play rule, where kids use items that can be connected or built upon in order to make things, rather than just mess around. We have Legos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, 30+ year-old Robotix toys from my childhood, and we also use the colorful interlocking blocks that came with our math curriculum. Because we have the most of this last medium, I chose to have the whole class use the colorful blocks in a contest. (The competition makes it more exciting.) Groups of kids–I not only let the kids pick their own groups, I didn’t limit the size of groups–arranged and connected blocks to form bridges that spanned distances between desks. I told them that the bridge had to be able to hold and transport a Thymio robot–This is a little robot that students can program to drive. The robot was the trick. Students worked to make their bridges wide enough, thick enough, and strong enough for the robot to use. Rather than drop robots on the floor during trial runs, we measured the weight with a simple scale. The robot was equal in weight to a half-full pencil box.
We discussed the concept of working together right after having experienced it first-hand. The kids loved constructing the creations.
The thing is, the blocks in our bridges were all different colors. Not only that, but they stuck together in varying strengths. Some had tight connections. Some were very loose. But every block had way more in common with the others than it did with the desk it rested on!
In the same way, humans are all different; We look, think, behave, talk, dress, and smell different. But, we have way more in common with each other than our differences would let on. Lets focus on our connectivity, building bridges, rather than tearing each other down.
I’m back to reading the Newbery Award winners. The fourth-ever winner, published July 9, 1925 (according to the information provided on the dust jacket) was a curiosity to me because, rather than a novel, it is a collection of stories collected from the native people living in South America.
Stories have always been a primal form of communication. They are timeless links to ancient traditions, legends, archetypes, myths, and symbols. They connect us to a larger self and universal truths.
I was looking forward to reading these tales, thinking that they would connect me to a deep string of humanity that would be tied to nature. Instead, the first story alarmed me with a message of self-destruction.
As is normally my custom, I began my reading, writing notes in the margin of the text. I immediately loved the description of setting and character development, so I marked the text to share with my third grade students who are just beginning to learn how to “set a story” in a place and time. The author begins his book speaking of his experience visiting a tiny village in Honduras. Although the buildings and road differ greatly from the homes and streets that his readers of 1925, and even today, know, the children playing in a cool stream on a hot day resonates with all. In fact, I was greatly inspired by the use of the inclusive language, “…as any other little chap of his age, white, brown, or yellow” (p. 2), connecting his readership with the people he was writing about.
All of this served to butter me up to appreciate a terrific tale that had been told and retold for hundreds of years by the indigenous people the author was visiting. The amazing literature had cast a spell on me. I was bent on learning what would happen to some of the first humans to inhabit the jungle. There were birds singing, animals meeting and talking in harmony, and hardworking, talented, and powerful human heros. Just when you think that this sensational salve is a love potion promoting literacy, irony cuts through the beauty like the machete that the two young men in the story use to level every single plant of a part of the jungle.
The premise of this first tiny tale is that there are two talented brothers who are told to clear land in a forest to begin their adult lives. The father of these youths tells them to do all of the work within seven days. A wise owl discusses the problem of losing his habitat with a wizard of the jungle. The two hatch a plan to thwart the sons by deceiving the father.
At this point, I am wondering who I am to route for; the humans who seem to have an impossible task, who I empathize with, who are set up as the heroes of the tale; or the owl/wizard team who are about to lose their homes. The way the wizard attempts to stop the sons is through turning the father against them. The father is told that his hard-working sons are lazy and not clearing the land. Each time this happens, the father increases the amount of land that they must level. Now, this seems to go against the owl/wizard’s plan, and yet they continue their scheme until the sons are finally asked to do more work than they can handle.
Here, I want to tell you that it is only because I am planning on blogging about this book that I am reading it so carefully. If I hadn’t, I am sure that I would not have been able to shake the spell of the story. I like the hundreds of people who heard the story told by the elderly woman of the Honduras village that Charles Finger visited, who, incidentally, was depicted as smoking a cigar when Finger found her, and then threw it down to tell the tale; I, also, would have been completely mesmerized by the plight of the young men who wanted to please their father, earn their inheritance, and be successful in life. Just like a character in a fantasy fiction who has a spell broken awakens, realizing that his love had been an aberration, I found myself shaking my head at the human-size iguana who helped the human youths by showing them how to harness the power of the forest animals to clear every plant from the land that the very same forest animals use to make their homes, find food, and live.
Another reader and endless listeners of this tale would surely be swept in by the poetry, “I must do what I can, Is the thought of a man,” the seeming teamwork between human and beast, the defeat of evil in prevailing against the efforts of the wizard, and proving oneself to elders. I can easily imagine the recipient of such powerful storytelling being completely sucked in. What is the problem with this? Only that the storyteller was misleading listeners. Granted, the themes of working hard, never giving up, being ingenious, and listening to nature are all valuable lessons, but curtained in this spell of a story is the theme of humans enslaving the earth. It isn’t a surprise that the two youths are victorious in the end. The old iguana who “climbed into a tree and stretched himself along the branch of it where he could best see, and the birds gathered in a great circle, and matchless melody going up to the sky” would rest there until the next human cuts his tree down, also. Then more humans would cut down every tree that those singing birds occupied. When the magic of this wonderful story melted from my brain, I was aghast at the horror of the animals who were depicted as happy to help the humans destroy their habitat. The storyteller was sharing a tale that convinced listeners that nature wants humans to destroy her. In the end of the tale the brothers plant fruit trees on their newly cleared land. Do you think that they would tolerate the singing birds, who helped them clear the land to plant the trees, eat the fruit that grew there? Certainly not.
Again, I recognize that the themes within this tale were useful to previous generations. Humans struggled to master technologies, easing their existence on this planet. We have benefited from the inspirational stories of our elders motivating us to assimilate the best character traits for growing into the mature species we are today. Rather than this blog ending on a negative note, I’d like to challenge future storytellers to use their power for positive change. It is time to harness the magic of terrific tale telling to empower youths and adults alike for creative, innovative aspirations of helping humans come together to live harmoniously. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for the “love potion” of storytelling to be transcendent than amorous, anyway?
You tell a group of students that you want them to be “Classy.” What is this elusive character trait, and how can a teacher easily communicate it to kids?
My school district uses a standards-based grading system of one through four when it comes to communicating conceptual understanding. This is how I explain it to my students: If you do exactly what I ask on an assignment, just right, you get a three. This means you have completed the task satisfactorily. If there were some mistakes or the work makes it seem like you don’t fully understand the concept, you get a two. This means that there is room for improvement, which is okay, as long as you step it up and work at getting better. A one is when there are so many errors that it is obvious you are lost or not trying. You see that when the work screams, “Whoa! I need serious help and attention over here.” And then, there are fours. These are the gems that students earn when they have exceeded expectations. When a student follows the parameters of an assignment, and then some. I am not looking for a sixth paragraph tacked onto a five-paragraph essay. A four would be awarded to a student who included a quote from a notable expert on the topic and referenced the site where it was found.
Fine, Mr. Weimann, but what does this have to do with classroom management? Well, this rubric can be applied to every aspect of the students’ activity at school. In the same way that I will use these principles to grade an assignment, I can use them to grade the way in which a student completes the assignment.
Here is how I communicate what that fourth level of behavior looks like. Students have all played with playdough or clay before. What happens when you push a penny or any other object down onto some playdough? “It makes an indent,” a student answers. “Correct,” I reply, “But, what is that indent called? What is a vocabulary word for that; something synonymous?” There are some thoughtful ideas. With only the sound of “im-” several students complete the word, “impression”. The object makes an impression of itself onto the soft material.
Mrs. Hulmes teaches first grade at my school. When Mrs. Hulmes’s line of students exit their classroom they not only walk in a straight line without talking or touching, but they hold their hands behind their backs. Not one or two of the students, but every single one of them. And, not once in a while, but every single time they are in line, they do this. When there is a substitute for Mrs. Hulmes, her class lines up and moves from location to location this way. You can probably picture it in your head, while reading this text, but if you saw it in person, it would leave an impression on your mind that you would never forget. I have never seen a nicer looking line in my life. It is so classy.
To be classy is to be impressive. Students can sit on the carpet and listen to me while I explain this, and that might be a three. The students that are sitting up straight, making eye contact with me when possible, smiling, and raising their hands to either share connections or ask pertinent questions to deepen their’s and their peers’ understanding are impressing me. This is four behavior. That is classy, and I am their captain.