Holding the Weight of New Ideas
I have been spending my free time at home out in our backyard. The previous owners of our house had used the perimeter of the property as a dumping ground for all sorts of debris, but mostly as a place to throw loose rock. As I have begun the process of reclaiming that ground by raking and shoveling these areas out, I have simultaneously started to build small stone walls around… well just about anything I can justify putting a wall around! I’ve built a fire pit, encircled the base of a dogwood tree that in no way needed to be encircled, enclosed garden areas, built stone fairy houses for the kids, and even started building small cairns around the yard.
The progress of my work can be tracked by the sturdiness of my walls. Early attempts look like a collection of randomly placed stones that have for the most part shifted into a downward slide of skree. Later walls benefitted greatly from a key realization: It’s all about foundation work. All the lugging, lifting and placing were for naught if I didn’t start off right. I knew this in theory, of course, but had my lack of full appreciation for the concept spelled out for me in bold by the early crumbling structures that now decorate my lawn.
Theory and practice are not the same thing, and this idea is an important (yet often neglected) aspect of the educational process. In my ninth grade science classes down in the city I found it incredibly challenging to guide students through concepts like photosynthesis, or the cycle of energy between animals and plants, when most of my students had no real experience with any of the elements of nature that were involved in those ideas. They struggled mightily with standardized testing questions that assumed a foundation of experience with nature and the outdoors that they simply did not have.
One of the things that guide us at Randolph School is a commitment to fill our days with learning opportunities that not only help our students build content knowledge and skills, but which also give them a firm foundation of life experiences upon which they will build and build as they move forward through their lives. We create and launch the rockets that will be referenced in high school math problems about parabolas. We witness the cycles of nature down by our creek. We create the maps that social studies teachers will assume students understand. We live the Civil War through the eyes of participants, and write our own fictitious primary sources. We learn math because it is how we interact with our friends in Math Mall, and we write and read because we have something we want to say or discover. We are building an approach and understanding of the world that will not crumble, but rather will hold the weight of new ideas and concepts that get added as we move forward through life.
Have a great weekend. I’m going to spend mine shoring up the foundation of some walls in my backyard.