A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Overcoming an Unresourceful State

Bryan is a 12 year old who has taken a few emotional hits over the past few weeks. Because I have had so many of my own problems, because I tend not to dwell on other people's problems, and because my focus during the school year is so narrowly focused on the prize, academic success, Bryan's emotional problems over the past few weeks have registered in my brain as chatter. I have, quite frankly, tuned them out.

Oddly enough, my room seems to have become a haven for students seeking shelter from the emotional storm. Perhaps students come to my room because I am so non-judgmental and I don't ask too many questions. Who knows?

Yesterday, during the 7th period Colonial America Test, Bryan had a panic attack. Since Bryan had been coming to my room to borrow my computer every day during lunch for the past week to borrow my computer to study for the big test, and since he had performed so well throughout the year on every other US History tests, Bryan's test-taking brain freeze came as a total surprise. When the bell rung at the end of 7th period, Bryan was only about a quarter done, had that deer in the headlights look, was mumbling about Quakers and Georgia, and his face had turned white as a sheet. For a 12 year old who was normally so resourceful, it surprised me to observe him in such an unresourceful state. I dipped into my neurolinguistic programming (NLP) toolbox, acquired from Tony Robbins' Lessons in Mastery. Tony's voice spoke to me, in a slow, deep, breathy tone, "You've got to chunk it down."

I joked, "Normally on a Friday, nobody stands between me and my dog Mabel, but you have built up enough equity with me. For you, I will make an exception. Call your mom and ask if she will let you stay and finish the test and see if she can pick you up when you are done." She agreed to let him stay.

We walked to the teacher's lounge and I bought him a Dr. Pepper. When Bryan opened his soda, his soda spilled over in the hall. Dr. P walked by with a teacher. I warned them to avoid the spill as I wiped up the spill.

Bryan and I went to the gym and grabbed a basketball from the supply closet. The group of teachers who play basketball were gathering. I never join them. Bryan and I went outside to shoot some hoops. I knew Bryan loves to play football, but I didn't know he was playing for his local basketball team and has a big game coming up. I kept feeding him the ball, reminded him to not drop his hands, but just shoot in rhythm. /We worked on keeping his elbow square, using his fingers to get a little backspin on the ball, and remembering to use his legs.

I knew that Bryan's grandma had recently passed away and had bequeathed her shotgun to him so that he could one day go out onto her farm and shoot squirrels, skin them, and make squirrel stew, but I had no idea that Bryan's dad had recently been sent to jail. Since Bryan is always wearing fatigues, and because of his ebullient outdoorsy personality, and since his voice dropped to a whisper whenever he mentioned something about his dad, and largely because Bryan's insights in class were quite often brilliant, I had envisioning his dad, Walter Mitty style, as some sort of CIA operative. Maybe I was also doing a little racial profiling, since Bryan is white, and since our school population is so diverse, because it never occurred to me that white kids have problems too.

As we were shooting buckets, Bryan kept wanting me to answer whether the Quakers were from Georgia, so I asked him to review with me the order in which the first 6 colonies had settled. Who settled these colonies, and what was their motivation. What was first? First was Roanoke Island. Who settled it? English settlers settled for economic reasons. Who was second? Jamestown. Who settled it? The Virginia Company of Londan. Why? Economic Reasons. Why did Jamestown become the first permanent English settlement? Tobacco. What was third? Plymouth. Who settled? The Pilgrims. Why did they settle? Religious persecution. They were Separatists. Forth? Massachusetts Bay. Who settled it? The Puritans. Why? Also religious persecution. Fifth? Pennsylvania. Who? Oh, the Quakers? Why? Religious freedom. Lastly? Georgia. Who? Quakers. Nope!

He could not remember the name of the people who settle Georgia, so I reminded him to think about the three regions. Why was New England settled? Religion. The South? Economic reasons. Middle Atlantic? a little of both. And where is Georgia? The South, so it must be economic reasons.

Bryan still could not remember. With his shoulders no longer slumped and his tension subsided, we went back to finish the test. Before I realized it, Bryan had pulled up the Power Point to find the answer about who settled Georgia. "Oh, debtors!" His mental constipation passed. I looked the other way, held my nose, and gave him a fresh start.

Bryan finished his online about 20 minutes, during which, I read aloud to him, an accommodation that is available to him, along with the screen reader he has available to him as a student with a Learning Disability. As we progressed, I asked him to read to me, and discovered that he reverses initial blended consonants, adds suffixes that are not there, and does not seem to break what he is reading into syllables. Are you dyslexic, I asked him? "Yes, he replied." I hadn't known.

I told Bryan about Dr. Roger Slakey, one of my most brilliant professors at Georgetown University. Dr. Slakey was rumored to have had dyslexia too. Nobody could break down exactly what the author was doing in a short-story or a poem, from the standpoint of style, i.e., grammar, logical sequence, imagery, and word choice, better than Dr. Slakey. Dr. Slakey had me analyze two different versions of Wordsworth's Prelude, the original, written as a young man, and a later more edited version, written after he had become an elder statesman of the Romantic Movement. Dr. Slakey once said, "Sloppy writing is a reflection of sloppy thinking."

Too many students ask for the answer rather than asking themselves, "what makes sense." What I'm noticing, particularly in math, but in this case in US History, is that when students focus on getting the right answer, they want to copy the work of other students, copy what the teacher is writing, and they become so worried about copying the right answer that they forget how to think for themselves. I learned that somehow, Bryan had written incorrectly on his study guide that Georgia was founded by Quakers.

A single misconception shut down one of the most resource students I have ever come across. As Dale Carnegie famously wrote in How to Win Friends and Influence Them, "The tiniest beetles can fell the mightiest oak. Don't let the beetles get you down."