Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It Is A New Map. China Is Orange.

The newest Carnival of Education is up, over at the Education Wonks! Head on over there and find out what's going on in the world of education. How can you form a viable opinion if you don't know what the issues are?

The title of yesterday's post is from the novel "Good Morning, Miss Dove," by Frances Gray Patton. This lovely novel was made into a movie in 1955, starring Jennifer Jones and pretty much every major and minor actor in the world. I love the book, I like the movie, but the stage play is simply dreadful.

Miss Dove is the stereotypical schoolteacher of the first half of the 20th century. She is an old maid by choice, although she was not without her own love story. Her clothes are dreadfully dowdy; she's worn the same hat for thirty years. She has conducted her classes in exactly the same way ever since she first started teaching, at 18.

As the generations went by, parents criticized Miss Dove's outdated methods, but since she had taught pretty much everyone in the town, nobody could shake the feeling that she was the BOSS and tell her to change her ways and get with the modern program.

In Miss Dove's classroom, time stood still. In her classroom, every child was able to relax, because as long as he/she obeyed the rules, nothing bad could ever happen. Miss Dove was in charge, and Miss Dove knew how to make a child feel secure. Miss Dove looked for the good in each child, and she tried to instill in each student a love of and longing for personal virtue, goodness, and ethics. When she found a child with these qualities, it was the biggest thrill of her life.

"William Holloway started out with a gift rarer than mathematical genius or perfect pitch. A child in whom the ethical instinct was as innate as the function of breathing."

In the other teachers' rooms, sounds of mayhem were often heard, but as each child walked into the geography room, he/she instantly became calm and well-mannered and respectful. The occasional little boy who disrupted for ANY reason simply, at a look from Miss Dove, got up and walked over the the classroom sink, washed his own mouth out with soap, and sat back down.

In Miss Dove's room, mountains were tall, deserts were dry, certain kinds of animals with certain dietary habits lived in each kind of earthly environment, ants tasted like sour pickles - that fact was in the textbook and to make sure, Miss Dove tasted an ant - "arctic" was spelled with a "c" in the middle, camels were not pretty beasts but could go for many days without water, and for many, many years, China was purple. No child left the Liberty Hill elementary school without bringing with him/her an extensive knowledge of world geography that would rival that of most college students, nowadays.

In Miss Dove's room, knowledge of the world became knowledge of the varied cultures and peoples of the world. There was no name-calling or social "status" in Miss Dove's room, and there were no put-downs of any kind, in Miss Dove's room. Miss Dove knew that when a child feels secure, almost any child can learn.

In Miss Dove's classroom, no child had to be afraid of what another child might say or do. No child had to fear having his/her pencil stolen or being mistreated in any way. In Miss Dove's room, if a child kept his/her margins straight, sneezed into a handkerchief, paid attention, showed respect for everyone in the room, obeyed the teacher, and did what each student is supposed to do anyway, no harm could ever come to him/her. The geography room was a safe haven.

Schools should all be safe havens. Every room and hallway in every school should be a place where any student who obeys the rules and shows respect for everyone can relax, take a deep breath, and learn.

Schools who don't enforce the rules, or which allow exceptions for the rules, or allow students who have no intention of obeying the rules and EVERY intention of hurting others - and disruption is a way of hurting others because it interferes with learning and that is a deliberate, hurtful thing to do - to remain in the school, are doing the majority of their students a great disservice.

We make fun of Miss Dove and everyone who looks, talks, and acts like Miss Dove, these days, but the truth is, when Miss Dove and her peers were allowed to be genuinely in charge of their classrooms, the vast majority of children liked it. Children were free to learn in Miss Dove's room. Disruption of any kind was simply not tolerated, nor should it ever be. When children feel secure and safe, they learn.

It's too bad teachers nowadays are not allowed to be as Miss Dove was allowed to be: the boss of her classroom, and woe befall any child who chose to be a pain in the neck. It just didn't happen back then, and if by chance it DID happen, that child paid the price for his/her unfortunate choice of behavior.

Good morning, Miss Dove. I had you in second grade and I adored you. You treated us with respect, and demanded likewise from us. Because you genuinely liked us and wanted us to learn, and removed any and every possible obstacle that stood in our way, within your power, we were able to learn. You taught us many things, and then expected us to continue proving our ability to use this knowledge all year long. We couldn't forget things because you required us to keep doing them.

When you smacked that dreadful, dreadful little boy who wouldn't leave us alone and kept grabbing our erasers, on the top of the head with your knuckles, every other child in your room sighed and relaxed, for it proved that you would not allow harm to come to any child who behaved well. You frog-marched him out, and we never saw him again. Nobody missed him. We were just glad to be left in peace, to learn all the things you promised we would have the chance to learn. Removing kids who actively chose to disrupt that process was part of your promise to the rest of us that we would be able to learn, and be safe, in your classroom.

You were at least 150 years old when you were my teacher, and you'd been my mother's and my father's teacher, too. Dad used to say that you were one of only two women in our town he would tip his hat to.

Good morning, Miss Dove. I think our country would be a lot better off if you were still around.

Here's the kicker. Even now, when I read or watch "Good Morning, Miss Dove," I know that Miss Dove is supposed to be quite old. She looks old, she acts old, she's taught at least two generations of Liberty Hill citizens, and, well, everybody treats her as though she were really, really old.

And then she tells us that she's 54.

I wouldn't mind BEING like Miss Dove, but I certainly don't want to LOOK like her.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 9:40 PM | |


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