Saturday, March 22, 2014

This I Believe

For the past couple of weeks my students and I have been working on persuasive essays.   This was partly to prepare for the writing test all third graders must take this time of year.  But another reason was to help them get in touch with what they believe.  We are calling them our Passion Pieces or our This I Believe pieces because we should all write something we are passionate about.  We should all believe in something.

Deciding on a passion doesn’t come easy for some young ones.  I mean everyone has a favorite toy, movie or video game.  My expectations for this project were a little higher.  So when I explained the project, I front loaded it with, “Let’s not do toys, movies or video games…”  We all took a week to consider. 

While I showed them the old 5 paragraph theme – PARAGRAPH 1) This is what I’m going to tell you,  PARAGRAPH 2-4) Here I am telling you,  PARAGRAPH 5) This is what I’ve just told you – I encouraged my young writers to go beyond that.  These pieces aren’t for the standardized test readers, we are writing for each other.  And in my mind we are writing for ourselves.  It is important for everyone to be passionate about something, to be stimulated by a topic, to feel the need to convince someone of something we feel strongly about. 

And so we wrote.  Here is my little piece about the importance of getting outdoors.

It was a rainy evening as Heidi and I pulled into the driveway of her colleague.  When we went inside people were drying off and socializing, putting away their soggy umbrellas and hugging.  One woman I had never met, a new faculty member, was holding forth about how miserable the hot, wet weather is in South Carolina.  She was just moving down from the North.  After we were introduced, she told me that she never goes outside except when she has to. 

“Really?” I asked, sure that she must have meant that she doesn’t like to go out in the rain, or when it is too hot or there is too much pollen.

“Nope, I don’t go outside at all.  I’m an indoors-kind-of-person.”  She said it so matter-of-factly.  She said it as if most people felt that way.  It rolled off her tongue as easily as if she were saying, “I don’t like brussel sprouts,” or “I never wear plaid.” 

“And I don’t open my windows either.  I stick to heating and air conditioning,” she went on.

While I was intrigued, I ended up sliding into a conversation with someone else I probably had more in common with.  I felt a few things at once.  First, “I’m not a _______ person,” never worked for me.  I am not a morning person, for example, means that you don’t like getting out of bed early.   Who does?  But it isn’t as though one comes hard wired that way. It doesn’t mean that one can’t change into a morning person if one wants to.  We have choices about who we are and who we want to become.  When people say, “I’m not a ________ person,” it’s as though they are boxing themselves into a character trait unnecessarily.   Go ahead, be a _______ person!

Another feeling I had was that this young woman was choosing to miss so much real life, so much adventure, beauty and excitement.  How crazy artificial it is to stay inside all the time.  The air she breathes comes from a vent in the floor or ceiling.  It is heated or air conditioned, filtered and blown by a fan.

What she is missing is air that is blown through leaves or over grassy meadows, or across a lake. She is missing the misty ocean breeze in her face, and the sunlight filtered through low clouds. 

What she smells is the perfumed smell of air “fresheners” and the leftover smells of her own cooking.  What she is missing is the real air freshened by flowers or leaf litter from a forest floor.  She is missing the muggy wetness of a humid summer day, moistening her skin along with her own natural perspiration. 

The temperature she feels all day long, winter, spring, summer or fall is always constant.  No matter what the weather in the real world, she is the same temperature all day and all night long.   What she doesn’t feel is the rain on her skin – or when she does it irritates her.  She doesn’t feel ice crystals bouncing off her jacket, or her hair blowing naturally in a stiff wind.   

What she hears is the sound of the TV or music from her stereo speakers or ear buds.  She hears YouTube on her computer or conversations on her cell phone.  And what she is missing by only staying indoors is the sound of real life, life beyond that created by humans.  She is missing real music: chorus frogs, leaves, crickets, cicadas, mocking birds and mourning doves, the breeze through bare branches, the crashing of waves, the buzz of bees. 

And the sights she chooses to miss by avoiding the real world?  She may see a televised science special on the cosmos, but she doesn’t look up at the night sky.  She might see a sunset at a film in a theater, but that would pale in comparison to being on a sand dune at the end of the day and watching the sun dip below the horizon as the earth turns away in its natural rotation. 

After the party was over it was still raining soft and warm.  And when we left that indoors party, I paused for a moment before getting into the car.  I put my face up to the sky and let that rain silk my skin.  Because I believe in being outside.  I believe in being a part of the real world.  


MLucas said...

Yes, nature is very hi-res. I think I really am a morning person though, I just have more energy then. Maybe that's the coffee.

Chris Hass said...

I have thought the same thing in regards to anyone who says "I'm just not a ___ person." It feels like a cop-out for not doing something they could, if they really wanted to.

I can't understand how anyone wouldn't feel a need to at lteast sit on the screened porch. My grandfather used to keep his house shut tight year 'round. He also kept the heavy drapes closed and turned on the lamps - even when it was a beautiful sunny day outside. I would sit there and cringe. Our house does not have any curtains and the few blinds we do have are rarely used.

Emily said...

Agreed. Outside is the stuff. My kids and I have been spending lots of workshop time outside of our classroom lately. There is such a shift in feeling just outside our window. That's not even close to the exhilaration of being on top of a mountain you've just climbed.

I can't wait to read your kids' pieces. Explicitly stating beliefs is hard and valuable work. I wonder what would happen if our kids each took on the challenge of writing some kind of belief statement at the end of each year. How would they change? What would some patterns be?