Skip the Stamps
I have once again returned from promenading around my favorite blog sites, and a theme that keeps appearing is writing as a means of therapy. When English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote that the pen is mightier than the sword, I figure he was referring to strategies for raising the collective conscience of the masses. Words are powerful tools, when utilized to their full potential. They can hurt, they can incite, and they can heal.
I have used words in many different contexts in my life, but one effective use for me, is the writing of letters to people, with no intent of ever mailing them. I worked sixteen years in the middle school, on a staff overwhelmingly dominated by women. Of the thirty-nine full-time teachers in our district, there were only four men in the K-8 arena, and only two at the middle school level.
My second year teaching, I teamed up with Paul, who had been on staff for ten years, and we set about to create a program which embraced the restructuring efforts of our school district. We bucked the old-school traditions by creating a program which consisted of sixth, seventh and eighthth graders in the same classroom. We used literature as the foundation and integrated it into the other disciplines.
So if we were reading Steinbeck’s The Pearl, then we would probably be studying scorpions in science, writing essays about whether Kino was greedy or not in language, and looking at the native cultures of Mexico in social studies, in conjunction with seventh grade curriculum covering the Incas, Mayans and Aztecs.
Paul and I worked hard to present all three learning styles to the kids, so that those who learned aurally and those who learned by using their hands, had access to the material as well as those who were good readers. We did projects around the middle school that directly benefited the students and allowed them to take pride in their surroundings. When we did the French drain system so as to eliminate the bogs which rapidly formed on the two front lawns of the school, once the rainy season started, we were able to create some unique educational opportunities.
The water from the roofs of the classrooms came through carefully circuited gutters, and spewed out onto the “lawns,” which predictably became mud holes, with no vestige of greenery. Students dug the trenches, calculated the amount of perforated pipe and gravel, and ordered the materials, to re-route the water and allow the lawns to grow and flourish.
All was well with our multi-graded, literature-based, thematic, project-based curriculum, and the kids were thriving. Correct? Well, there was dissension in the ranks. There was muttering in the staff room, and disparaging glances-if not discouraging words-from other colleagues on the middle school staff. Our teaching methods provided a contrast to more traditional approaches, and therefore created unhappiness.
To say that we encountered rough seas, may be to overuse an old cliche, but change does produce ripples, and ripples will swell to tsunami proportions under the right conditions. It’s not that any issues were gender-related, it was more of old school versus change, with the women on one side of the swirling whilrpool, and the [two] men on the other.
I used to hammer out long letters on the newly acquired computers in the language lab, a result of the purchases made from the restructuring grant money, in which I addressed the philosophical disparities between our approaches, and articulated our differences of opinion. Of course, under the careful orchestration of Mr. Matlock, we hashed the boundaries out in staff meetings, but never got to address the more volatile issue of why Paul and I had to go and be such stuff-stirrers. Why couldn’t we fit into our niche, and remain seen and not heard?
I derived phenomenal therapeutic value from being able to assert myself to the rest of the staff, if only on paper, and if only for the perusal of Paul and myself. It seems kind of inane, and maybe I should have actually sent the letters and waited for the tidal wave of emotion, but it wouldn’t have made me feel any better, and we would have been swept out to “sea,” by the resulting rush of “water.”
Writing helped me sort the whole morass out, and kept me from making any mistakes that could not be taken back. I learned early on that once something is written down-and delivered-it couldn’t just “be returned to sender.” By sorting and classifying all factors involved, and writing it all down, I managed to be able to continue to function, without saying or writing something that would rattle our world and produce a tsunami, that was bound to leave me gasping on the beach.
I don’t mind gasping on the beach, but I prefer it be as the result of sticking my foot in the cold water, and not from sticking it into my mouth.