Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's All About Perception

Yesterday, Braden capped out his detailing of the events of his fifth day of 4th grade with the statement, "And tomorrow Ms. Allen expects us to read literature and I just don't think I'm going to like it."

Alarmed by his sudden dislike of reading, I inquired further.  "But you read literature all of the time.  Why don't you think you're going to like it?"

"Mom, I read fantasy and adventure and magazines about skateboarding and "National Geographic" and "Boys Life."  I have never read literature and I don't know why Ms. Allen wants to change that."

"Braden, all of the things you mentioned are literature.  Harry Potter.  Greek Mythology.  Magazines.  It's all literature.  All written word is literature, even the ones you don't enjoy reading."

Silence flooded the backseat of the car.  And after a pregnant pause, Braden grumbled "well I don't know why Ms. Allen has to be so fancy.  She nearly ruined reading for me forever."

Braden (who obviously gets his flare for the dramatic from his Aunt Tessa) reminded me of something we educators--or people in general for that matter--often forget:  A perception of a thing is often more powerful than the thing itself.

Braden is no stranger to literary discourse.  Currently on book six of the Harry Potter series, he constantly reviews chapters with me, applauding Rowling's ability to set life to his imagination.  He questions me about my current reads and knows that I read for both pleasure and academic enrichment.  Books are part of my core; books are part of his core.  Yet one word--and his perception and his teacher's presumption--caused him to momentarily amend that core.

How many times during my fourteen years in the classroom have I done the same thing?  Have I ever, unknowingly, shaped a student's perception of literature in a negative manner?  And if I have, did he have someone at home with whom he could he discuss his concerns--someone who would reassure him that his perception was okay?  Or did he have the courage to come to me, his teacher, and seek further clarification about my meaning and intent?

Thanks to Braden and Ms. Allen, I have a new perception of perceptions.  And so today, and tomorrow, and every day to come in the classroom, I will create an environment where perceptions elicit positivity.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Say Good-bye to Rationality

Rationally minded people do not live life in fear that they will be the victim of a crime.  This is not to assert that they live recklessly—rationality, after all, implies a modicum of caution—but they do not allow fear to impede living.  While those more brazen may find rationalists boring, rationalists do, in fact, live life.

I have never feared living life.  I make the appropriate concessions to my safety by locking doors to the house and car, leaving my name unpublished in the local phone book, avoiding interactions with suspect people, traveling down well-lit streets as opposed to dark alley-ways.  But I have never feared living life.

The possibility of failure and isolation from all that was familiar did not stay me from moving to Georgia and building a life for myself (and then Braden) even though many—early on—questioned my decision.  The attacks that darkened America on September 11 did not temper me from boarding a plane for a friend’s wedding nine mournful days later even though many were—and still are—grounded by that terror.  The homeless man who forcefully attempted to enter my car when I pulled up to his intersection one afternoon did not chill me against homeless men at intersections even though many—shamefully—are wary of homeless men all the time.  As a rationally minded person, I approached these unnerving experiences—and others too tedious to address—as moments to live with caution and awareness, but never with fear.

And then I was the victim of a crime.  And now I am afraid.

In the scope of life, the crime committed was menial; no physical harm came upon Braden or myself, a blessing for which we are truly thankful.  A selfish punk (or two) broke into my car and freed from its securely locked trunk two suitcases containing ten days worth of vacation clothing, a camera holding record of a 9th birthday celebration less than two weeks passed, and a blossoming wizard’s collection of Harry Potter movies, years one through seven.  The car was parked, upon urging of my rationality, beneath the window at the front of Marriott hotel at which we were staying—a hotel I selected because of its seemingly safe location in a suburb of Kansas City.  (A location we had frequented one other time without reservation.)  Three days after the crime, all of the clothing items (short one pair of sandals), were discovered in a trashed room on the very floor of the hotel in which we had stayed.  The criminals rolled our full suitcases in through the front door of the hotel on Friday evening, rummaged through the contents, discarded what they did not want, and rolled our practically empty suitcases (now holding only stolen electronics) out through the very same doors on Monday morning.

The return of our clothing does not erase the pain of the violation or subsequent fear that has followed.  Caution has been replaced by incessant worry.  Worry that I left the car or front door to the house unlocked.  Worry that I left the garage door wide open.  Worry that even with the doors locked, someone will again break in and steal from us.  Worry that the thief will come to the address on the luggage tag, and carry his violation into our home.

And now, instead of being a rationally cautious and aware woman in control of her world, I am a woman fearfully aware of her vulnerability in a world she cannot control.