Yesterday I worked the soil some more in our “wall garden.” The sun warmed my back, while I dug up old cannas and encroaching crab grass–to make way for tomatoes. Some readers may know that my beta blog’s subtitle read “planting thoughts about poetry, education and writing instruction.” Planting and growing continue as valuable metaphors for my work with students. For example, if students are to grow in learning, we adults must help prepare the soil. We have to turn the earth over. We must make sure it has enough air and nutrients. The seeds need hospitable conditions, not to mention monitoring.
This past Friday, in honor of today’s national holiday, students worked with Dr. King’s “Christmas Sermon on Peace,” first delivered in 1967 from Ebenezer Church here in Atlanta. After they had read the speech to each other in small groups, proceeding section by section, they rendered one of the speech’s main ideas visually. As a fun extra, they kept to themselves which idea they were representing, in abstract or representational style, so that classmates could later try to guess the subject. At the end of the day, I taped the images to the large window that spans one of the classroom’s four walls. The result is a kind of visual speech by Dr. King, which we now can see each time we look out towards the world beyond the classroom. The images not only represent Dr. King’s ideas, but also the ideas that particularly resonate with each individual. No idea went un-illustrated. Again in honor of today’s national holiday, especially for those who may not know this sermon, I am listing the labels that I taped above each group of student images, from left to right across the window:
If we are to have peace on earth,
our loyalties must become ecumenical . . .
as nations and individuals,
we are interdependent . . .
all life is interrelated.
. . . if we are to have peace in the world,
. . . ends and means must cohere . . .
the means represent the seed
and the end represents the tree.
. . . the nonviolent affirmation
of the sacredness of all human life. . .
When we truly believe in the sacredness
Of human personality, we won’t exploit people,
We won’t trample over people
With the iron feet of oppression,
We won’t kill anybody.
If there is to be peace on earth
And good will toward men,
We must finally believe in
The ultimate morality of the universe
I still have a dream . . .
SO, I often think of teaching and learning as centered on preparing the soil. What are we growing, for whom, and for what purpose? In other words, give ’em (the students) what for. Why are we doing what we’re doing? Dr. King’s speech centers on the “conditions for peace.” What kind of soil does peace need, at the individual and community levels? His speech addresses conditions necessary for the international community. Much of what we teachers do with students, and for students, involves preparing the soil. I can think of few things I would rather be doing with my time, what Mary Oliver calls this precious day, than working the soil, preparing to grow something that feeds people–today and tomorrow.
3 responses to “Give ’em what for”
Your post reminds me of a conversation I had with a student today. She shared with me her subversive method of dealing with authority when she felt it was being unfair. She wrote me an email later in the day, asking if I felt differently about her. I replied that I did not. I sympathized with her form of protest, acknowledging how difficult it can be to speak up, especially when the cost can be so great. But I also cautioned her to remember Martin Luther King’s words, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Thanks. Lucky students to have such conversations with you.
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